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These Things Stay the Same

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The train starts slowly and then picks up speed - the clanking sounds of the wheels along the tracks becoming one undifferentiated thrum. Wei Wuxian hitches the large duffel bag up on his shoulder and pushes through to the next car, still looking for a good place to sit. The train is crowded and A-Yuan presses his face into Wei Wuxian’s shoulder. At three and a half, he’s already getting big to hold like this for long, but after everything A-Yuan’s gone through in his short life, Wei Wuxian won’t deny him the comfort. Still, Wei Wuxian’s arms will be grateful when they find a seat.

The next car is full too, only single seats available. It’s strange how different Wei Wuxian’s life is from only two months ago. Then he’d traveled everywhere by himself, often in ways far less convenient than a single train seat. As a journalist who was known for shining light on troubles in remote places, both in the country and abroad, Wei Wuxian had traveled in all sorts of ways - truck beds, fishing boats, on foot, even by donkey. For the thirteen years since he’d left college with no interest in using his chemistry degree, Wei Wuxian had traveled to fires, wars, and floods. In all those years he’d never needed much more than his laptop and a backpack with a change of clothes and some soap. 

Now Wei Wuxian has A-Yuan, and, as a result, not only the large duffel, but a second suitcase checked in the baggage car. Wei Wuxian’s not sure who’s going to be the most surprised when he shows up with A-Yuan, his family or Lan Wangji. All those years ago, when Wei Wuxian had left, Lan Wangji was the only one who hadn’t seemed shocked or disappointed, but Wei Wuxian can’t decide if that means he’ll be more or less surprised to see Wei Wuxian home now. Certainly even the unflappable Lan Wangji couldn’t be expecting Wei Wuxian to show up with a child? 

Honestly, back then Wei Wuxian hadn’t exactly meant to leave for so long. He’d gotten the degree that he thought would make Uncle Jiang proud. Wei Wuxian had been so grateful to Uncle Jiang for the home he’d given Wei Wuxian after the years of not having one. Wei Wuxian had tried to walk the right path, following alongside Jiang Cheng. But then it came time to find a job, to spend a life working in a lab, and Wei Wuxian suddenly couldn’t do it. Couldn’t spend another ten years being compared to Jiang Cheng, couldn’t spend a lifetime always trying not to outshine him so they could both avoid the sharp side of Madam Yu’s tongue, and couldn’t stand the thought of the tedium ahead.

Wei Wuxian had left with no warning, only telling his family and friends afterward. Jiang Cheng and Madam Yu had been furious, while Jiang Yanli and Uncle Jiang had been disappointed. Wei Wuxian’s friends had all been shocked - only Lan Wangji had taken the news with his characteristic calm. In the midst of the scolding everyone else had been giving Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji had only told Wei Wuxian to be careful, something he’s repeated many times over the subsequent years, even after it is obvious to both of them that Wei Wuxian’s career revolves around taking risks.

Wei Wuxian hadn’t left home with the intention of becoming a journalist. He hadn’t had any real plan at all, he’d only known that he needed to get away. At first, he’d wandered here and there, living on savings and money made doing odd jobs. He met new people and rarely contacted anyone from home, focusing on the new experiences he was having, and not wanting to think about everything he’d left behind. There were interesting people everywhere he went and his head filled with their stories. 

Wei Wuxian didn’t have anyone to share these stories with, so instead he started writing them out. He wrote long letters that he never sent, all addressed to Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian knew a story was good if he could imagine Lan Wangji’s reaction to it - Lan Wangji being rather selective with his reactions. Other people got bored of Wei Wuxian’s talking eventually, but Lan Wangji was the best listener that Wei Wuxian knew. Even before they’d been friends Lan Wangji had listened to Wei Wuxian, and now, after years of friendship, Wei Wuxian found comfort in imagining Lan Wangji’s calm reactions to Wei Wuxian’s discoveries. 

There was something embarrassing about the number of letters Wei Wuxian accumulated - all saved unsent on his battered old laptop. He couldn’t send that many letters to Lan Wangji. Even for best friends it was somehow too much, but sometimes Wei Wuxian would copy over the best paragraphs for the occasional emails he did send.

The letters might have gathered on Wei Wuxian’s computer forever, seen only by Wei Wuxian and his imagined version of Lan Wangji, but then the small, coastal village that Wei Wuxian was visiting is hit by a typhoon. The flood waters washed in, swallowing all the places that Wei Wuxian had just visited. The woman who had rented Wei Wuxian a room bundled them both into a boat, and together they spent a long night trying to get people to safety. The waters didn’t recede for three days, and when they did, it became clear that the town was nearly gone. The country didn’t seem to notice, no newspapers covered it, all too busy breathing a sigh of relief that the major cities had been largely unaffected. The letters Wei Wuxian wrote to Lan Wangji about it were furious and sad by turns. 

Wei Wuxian helped the people as much as he could. On the fourth day, a non-profit organization showed up with doctors and clean water. They put Wei Wuxian to work as if he were one of their volunteers and he went along willingly, trying to offer a bright smile to the survivors and to the volunteers who had come to help. That night though, talking to the head doctor who, no matter what was happening, had a centered calm that reminded Wei Wuxian of Lan Wangji, Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but express his frustration with the lack of wider attention to the problem. 

She looked at Wei Wuxian, as unmoved as ever, and said, “If you want people to know, you have to find a way to tell them.” 

Her words had rung in Wei Wuxian’s mind and, after she’d gone to bed, Wei Wuxian had re-read the letters he’d written about the flood, about the resilience and yet despair of the people. He spent all night editing them together, boiling them down to the most important parts, and turned the result into an article. Then he’d looked for someone to publish it.

Wei Wuxian was lucky. Lucky because Uncle Jiang had adopted him. Lucky because Uncle Jiang’s adoption had lent Wei Wuxian the power of his name and his connections. Wei Wuxian was lucky even beyond that, because it seemed like everything fell into place. Just when Wei Wuxian’s name was passed along to the right places another writer couldn’t make their deadline, and Wei Wuxian’s article was published in an online magazine in their place. The magazine’s editor was pleased with the response it received, and told Wei Wuxian that they’d be happy to look at other articles in the same vein. 

Suddenly Wei Wuxian wasn’t just traveling aimlessly, he was a journalist, writing about places that most people had never visited and problems that they’d never thought about. Instead of waiting for trouble to find him, Wei Wuxian went wherever he heard whispers of a story worth writing, at first only in the country and then farther and farther abroad. Everywhere Wei Wuxian went, no matter what unrest or disaster he found himself covering, he tried to find the human heart of the story, to focus on the lives affected. As the years passed, Wei Wuxian’s reputation grew and bigger publications started to ask for his work, until he was a regular correspondent for some of the top papers in the country. Wei Wuxian now had the platform to bring attention to where it was needed. And, even then, even as a respected journalist, Wei Wuxian always started with a letter, with Lan Wangji. 

It was a good career in most ways. It wasn’t a job that got boring, there was always some unexpected new experience, or some unexpected event, unlike the steadiness of his siblings’ jobs or Lan Wangji’s role in running the family business. Wei Wuxian liked that. He’d always needed to keep moving, his mind always running, and, doing this job, he finally felt like life was fast enough for him. 

More importantly, on his good days, Wei Wuxian felt like he was doing something worthwhile, like he was helping people tell their stories, shining a spotlight where it was needed. But there were bad days too. Days when Wei Wuxian saw too much death, too much pain - days where he wondered if he was really helping. Then, the reputation he’d built for himself seemed soaked in blood, every paycheck underwritten in suffering. The letters he wrote on those days never turned into articles, but somehow it still helped to write them, to imagine Lan Wangji’s calm response to Wei Wuxian’s despair. Wei Wuxian would write until he could get up in the morning and try, once more, to help the next person he met, to document their attempts to rebuild their life from whatever tragedy was unfolding around them. 

It was an exciting career and most days Wei Wuxian felt like it was a worthwhile one, but it did keep him away from home. At first that had been part of the appeal, but years passed and Wei Wuxian missed so much of his own life, busy recording the lives of other people. Jiang Cheng was promoted, friends from school got married and had kids, and when, Wei Wuxian did see Uncle Jiang and Madam Yu, they seemed to age dramatically each time. Worst, Jiang Yanli finally got engaged to Jin Zixuan and Wei Wuxian missed her wedding. He’d planned to go, but then shooting broke out on the border where Wei Wuxian had spent the last three months waiting to see if it would be war or if it would be peace. Even if he’d wanted to leave, travel was impossible. He’d wondered then, if he was missing too much, if it could ever be worth being left behind by all the changes to everyone he knew.

Of all the people from home, Lan Wangji seemed to change the least. Of course, Lan Wangji had always been steady, even when they were in high school, but maybe Lan Wangji only seemed consistent because Wei Wuxian saw him regularly. More than anyone else, Lan Wangji came to visit Wei Wuxian in the far flung places Wei Wuxian found himself. It wasn’t easy for anyone to visit Wei Wuxian because he never really knew where he’d be in advance. For Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli this made it nearly impossible, they needed to be able to schedule their vacation and Jiang Yanli had a husband to work around. But Lan Wangji worked for his family and there were advantages to being his own boss. If Wei Wuxian told Lan Wangji that he’d be in one place for more than a couple of weeks, more often than not, Lan Wangji would show up. 

Of course, there were places that Wei Wuxian went that were too dangerous to think of bringing Lan Wangji. It was one thing for Wei Wuxian to risk himself, but the idea of Lan Wangji getting hurt because of Wei Wuxian was unbearable. When Wei Wuxian was one of these places he always told Lan Wangji that he would be leaving very soon. This served the dual purpose of making Lan Wangji worry less, and keeping him from planning a trip. Wei Wuxian thinks Lan Wangji probably figured it out eventually, but he’d always played along. 

Still, when he could, Wei Wuxian loved getting to see Lan Wangji. He loved getting to soak up Lan Wangji’s steady presence, and to tell Lan Wangji all the stories Wei Wuxian had only imagined sharing. The memory of these visits kept Wei Wuxian going for a long time afterward, helped him push away the dark days, and the growing longing for home. 

Even with these occasional moment of homesickness, Wei Wuxian didn’t mean to stop his career anymore than he meant to start it. Much like the launch of his career, it just seemed to happen. 

The day things changed, although Wei Wuxian hadn’t known at the time, he was back in the country for the first time in a few months. He was visiting the site of a large earthquake, the crumbled remains of what had, just two days ago, been a city. Wei Wuxian arrived in the morning, and by the afternoon he had worked his way through the rubble, interviewing people as he went, until he got to the makeshift medical headquarters. 

The head doctor who had inspired Wei Wuxian to pursue journalism all those years ago, had retired some years past, replaced by a young doctor named Wen Qing. Wen Qing didn’t have the calm aura of her predecessor, but her brisk competence put people at ease just the same. She and Wei Wuxian had long ago reached an understanding, she would put up with him interviewing her patients as long as he would help her volunteers as needed. This time, within moments of his arrival, she’d thrust a toddler at him, saying only, “His name is A-Yuan. Take care of him.” 

Wei Wuxian wasn’t bothered, he liked children and A-Yuan turned out to be a sweet child, somehow still full of mischief despite the devastation around them. It was only later, when Wen Qing found a moment to breathe, that she told Wei Wuxian that, as far as anyone could ascertain, both of A-Yuan's parents and all of his extended family had been killed in the earthquake. By then A-Yuan had run off his energy and was sound asleep against Wei Wuxian’s chest, looking untouched by tragedy. Maybe that was the moment Wei Wuxian’s life changed, but he still didn’t know it.

Wei Wuxian had seen plenty of orphans in his work of course. They always make him remember his own early years, and he tries to show them the kindness he would have wanted back then. At the end of the day though, Wei Wuxian moves on to the next story and they go to their extended family, or to the system. Wei Wuxian wishes he could do more, but the best he can do for them is to tell their story, and to make sure that they get what food and smiles he can offer in the moment. A-Yuan should be the same. 

Wei Wuxian spends a week in the city and A-Yuan spends much of it with him, only parting when Wei Wuxian travels to the more dangerously unstable parts of the city, or to the horror that is the pile of bodies building up where a sports field used to be. But at the end of every day A-Yuan ends up with Wei Wuxian, clinging to his leg, or sitting on his lap as they eat. Wei Wuxian takes A-Yuan along when he interviews survivors at the shelter and the makeshift hospital, always hoping that someone will look at A-Yuan with recognition, but they never do. Wen Qing’s people look as well, A-Yuan is popular with everyone, a bright spot in a dark place, but they don’t have any more luck than Wei Wuxian in finding a living relative, or even a family friend. 

At the end of the week, Wei Wuxian should leave. He’s filed three articles and there’s a forest fire raging through a mountain range only two day’s travel away, but there’s still no good place for A-Yuan to go. Wei Wuxian makes an excuse to his editor and stays another week, traveling further into the city, trying to trace A-Yuan’s family. 

Toward the end of the second week, Wei Wuxian and A-Yuan are returning from another failed trip, this time to find a rumored cousin of A-Yuan’s. They’re taking a break from the long walk back to the shelter, sitting on what used to be the stoop of a house and is now just two shallow stairs to nowhere, when a pack of dogs runs up to them. The dogs were clearly pets before, but now, after two weeks without their usual bowls of kibble, they’re hungry and ready to be mean. 

Wei Wuxian gathers A-Yuan to himself, heart pounding. He’s had to, given the nature of the places he spends his time, learn how to be calm in the face of dogs. But this pack is so very like the dogs from the worst days of his childhood that it seems like they could have jumped straight from his nightmares. 

They creep up on Wei Wuxian and A-Yuan, not quite decided if it’s worth the risk to attack. A-Yuan, safe in the circle of Wei Wuxian’s arms, doesn’t seem to realize that there’s any chance of danger, watching them with the same bright interest he has for most things. Wei Wuxian is frozen, knowing that running would only set off an attack, and then A-Yuan reaches out, shouting cheerfully, “Hello, dogs!” 

Miraculously, it seems to break the spell, the dogs startling away, disappearing as quickly as they appeared. It takes Wei Wuxian a long moment to realize that they’ve left, his arms still wrapped around A-Yuan. A-Yuan eventually grows restless, wiggling until Wei Wuxian sets him down so he can play, chasing the butterfly woven out of recycled plastic that one of the hospital patients had made him. Wei Wuxian watches A-Yuan’s game until his heart stops pounding and his legs are steady enough to finish the walk back to the hospital.

That night, after A-Yuan falls asleep, Wei Wuxian considers his options. They’ve failed to find any family for A-Yuan and the understaffed social services have already told Wei Wuxian that they’ll have to put him in a group home. Wei Wuxian remembers what those are like, especially so young, and he knows that they’re already overwhelmed with other children who have lost their families in the earthquake. He keeps circling back to A-Yuan’s open, curious expression, his confidence even in the face of the snarling dogs. Wei Wuxian doesn’t ever want A-Yuan to lose that. 

In the end, it’s no choice at all. Wei Wuxian starts the long paperwork process that offers him temporary guardianship of A-Yuan, pending a final adoption. The wheels turn slowly with the government buildings nearly as destroyed as the rest of the city, and half their usual employees dead or injured. Despite the barriers, the employees who remain are thrilled to have something happier to process in the midst of so much tragedy, and they keep it at the top of their to-do lists. It takes five weeks. Five weeks in which the city slowly starts to reshape itself, many leaving, others staying to rebuild, but Wei Wuxian officially becomes A-Yuan’s guardian. 

Wen Qing thinks Wei Wuxian is joking at first. She can’t imagine giving this life up - giving up the adrenaline, the good work they do in places like this - and doesn’t understand how he can consider it. Wei Wuxian had been the same once, he’d run away from a quiet life, from stability and family, but Wei Wuxian has been wandering for thirteen years. Maybe he’s just getting older, but he misses his family, his friends, Lan Wangji. Jiang Yanli wrote only last month to say that, after years of trying, she and Jin Zixuan are finally going to have a child. Does Wei Wuxian want to miss that too? Wei Wuxian has done a lot of good with his career, but there’s a quieter type of good to be done in raising A-Yuan. There’s an appeal to having a place to call home, a bed to sleep in every night, and maybe someone to share it with.

So here he is, pushing his way into another train car, lugging a bag filled with all the things a child needs for a long trip. Here he is, A-Yuan heavy in his arms, headed home and trying to figure out how to plan a good life for his son. There’s so much to think about. So many details he hadn’t needed to consider when he was sleeping on the ground half the time. He doesn’t even have a place to stay! 

Wei Wuxian had decided right away that he’ll go to Lan Wangji first. Lan Wangji will know where to start, he probably even knows how to do things like budget - it just seems like the sort of organized, useful thing that Lan Wangji would know. Most importantly, Wei Wuxian knows that Lan Wangji, who after all had been an orphan too, will understand why Wei Wuxian couldn’t leave A-Yuan there in the rubble to learn fear. So here Wei Wuxian is, on his way to Lan Wangji’s, child and problems in tow.

With relief Wei Wuxian sees that the next car has some open seats. Finally. The bag is digging into his shoulder and A-Yuan is getting heavy. Wei Wuxian heads toward a group of open seats, looking forward to putting everything down, when inexplicably he hears someone call his name. 

Wei Wuxian turns, not sure who could possibly know him out here. They’d traveled first to a bigger city to catch the train, but, as far as Wei Wuxian knows, he doesn’t have any friends or acquaintances there. 

But he’s wrong, because turning, he sees a familiar face. Very familiar in its own way, despite the fact that they haven’t seen each other since college. 

“Mo Xuanyu!”

“Wei Wuxian, imagine seeing you here!” Mo Xuanyu says, smiling brightly. “And who is this? Are you a father?” 

A-Yuan peers at Mo Xuanyu and then looks back at Wei Wuxian, eyes wide.

“Ah well, yes. It’s complicated, but yes.” 

Mo Xuanyu laughs. “Of course it is, it’s you! Come, sit here and tell me about it.” 

So Wei Wuxian sets A-Yuan down and hoists the duffel into the overhead storage. 

Wei Wuxian had lost touch with Mo Xuanyu after college, but Wei Wuxian still considers him a friend even so. It’s good to catch up after so long, even if Wei Wuxian stumbles, trying to explain not only the last thirteen years, but A-Yuan’s sudden appearance in his life. Wei Wuxian decides that at least this is good practice for explaining the situation to his family and Lan Wangji. 

Mo Xuanyu is a patient audience and he seems completely charmed by A-Yuan who is fascinated by him in turn. A-Yuan keeps trying to touch Mo Xuanyu’s face and then Wei Wuxian’s, as if there might be some trick that can be felt. Wei Wuxian apologizes, but Mo Xuanyu just laughs and leans in to let A-Yuan conduct his experiment. Wei Wuxian gives up, maybe when he’s been a father for more than a week on paper, he’ll be better able to reason with A-Yuan. Anyway, Mo Xuanyu’s face is half the reason he and Wei Wuxian had become friends in the first place, so Wei Wuxian can understand A-Yuan’s interest well enough. 

Wei Wuxian and Mo Xuanyu had met at a college party. They’d both been drunk, too drunk for either of them to remember afterward exactly how they’d started talking, or exactly who had made the first move, but somehow they’d ended up in Mo Xuanyu’s room. Wei Wuxian had vague memories of the lazy, drunk kisses they’d exchanged, sprawled on Mo Xuanyu’s bed, which was still covered in the clothing he’d considered before heading out for the night. Wei Wuxian’s strongest memory is of Mo Xuanyu's weight on top of him, pressing him uncomfortably into the bed until Wei Wuxian had finally reached underneath himself to pull out the pair of jeans digging into his back. It hadn’t stopped them from continuing to kiss. 

They’d fallen asleep before getting any further than some light groping. Wei Wuxian had woken first. The sun was already bright, and it illuminated Mo Xuanyu enough for Wei Wuxian to come to the slow, slightly hungover realization that Mo Xuanyu looked very much like Wei Wuxian. Very much. A concerning amount. An amount that suddenly cleared up why strangers would sometimes talk to Wei Wuxian on campus as if they knew him. 

Maybe Wei Wuxian should have slipped away at that point, but he couldn’t stop staring. He also couldn’t stop the loop of horrible thoughts running through his head. In the best case scenario, this guy didn’t look like him at all, instead Wei Wuxian had accidentally done some new drug and was on a terrible trip. This did not explain the strangers though. And if it was true, was Wei Wuxian so egotistical that he would make out with someone who looked just like him? Or what if they were long lost relatives? Given Wei Wuxian’s history it seemed possible, so had he just made out with his twin? 

Mo Xuanyu woke not long after, before Wei Wuxian could spiral much further than that. Mo Xuanyu’s face reflected the same shock that Wei Wuxian had felt, so Wei Wuxian was forced to rule out the drug idea. With both of them awake and sober it became evident that were some subtle differences between them - Wei Wuxian was slightly taller, the shape of their smiles wasn’t quite the same. There were enough differences that their friends should be able to tell them apart, and enough that they probably weren’t identical twins. An extensive exploration of their family trees revealed no identifiable connections, which was a relief. Drunk or not, Wei Wuxian was grateful not to add incest to his list of mistakes. Nevertheless, they agreed that no one could know about their brief hookup. It was just too embarrassing. Wei Wuxian would certainly never hear the end of it from Jiang Cheng. 

The spark was most definitely extinguished, but such a secret couldn’t help but create a bond, and they fell into an easy, if casual, friendship. They were both delighted by the different reactions they got when they went places together, although it was a little alarming how many people seemed to think that sleeping with twins would be sexy. The double takes from friends made them laugh, and every time they got asked if they were twins, they'd come up with a different answer. It became their inside joke to always elaborately compliment each other’s appearance whenever they met. Lan Wangji had hated it for some reason, but Wei Wuxian had just laughed off his annoyance. 

It almost feels like a sign to run into Mo Xuanyu now. A sign that Wei Wuxian has made the right choice, that his old life is still there waiting for him, even after all these years, that he can rekindle the friendships that he had left behind. To their shared amusement, the woman who comes around to check their tickets even asks if they’re twins, just like the old days. 

“Cousins,” Wei Wuxian says casually.

“Kissing cousins,” Mo Xuanyu whispers after she leaves, and they laugh together. 

They talk long enough that A-Yuan falls asleep, sprawled half against Mo Xuanyu and half over Wei Wuxian’s battered backpack. Mo Xuanyu seems delighted by A-Yuan’s easy trust, and Wei Wuxian has no interest in disturbing them when they’re both happy, but it’s been hours with hours still to go. Wei Wuxian is hungry and A-Yuan will be too when he wakes.

“I’ll watch him,” Mo Xuanyu offers when Wei Wuxian brings it up. “Just grab me something to eat too. Here.” He reaches into his pocket, careful not to disturb A-Yuan, and hands Wei Wuxian his wallet. 

“Ah ha,” Wei Wuxian says, pulling out the ID. “I’m Mo Xuanyu now!” He holds the ID up to his face so that Mo Xuanyu can admire the similarity.

Mo Xuanyu laughs, but there’s a note of sadness when he says, “That’s fine.”

Mo Xuanyu has successfully directed the conversation away from himself and back to Wei Wuxian or A-Yuan for the whole trip, so Wei Wuxian doesn’t know what’s causing his sadness or how to erase it. Wei Wuxian focuses on the practical issue for now, maybe Mo Xuanyu will open up over food. “Well, unfortunately my cards are all in the bag A-Yuan is sleeping on, so I’m still going to have to wake him up.” 

Mo Xuanyu shrugs. “Just owe me. You can buy next time we go out. You know, after you’ve had Lan Wangji set up a budget.” 

“Well…” Mo Xuanyu does have a point. “Fine. I’ll owe you.” 

Mo Xuanyu laughs at him. “Yes, that’s probably for the best.” 

Wei Wuxian tucks Mo Xuanyu’s wallet in his pocket and heads off in search of food. It feels good to stretch his legs, but he doesn’t want to take too long. Mo Xuanyu is fine with a sleeping A-Yuan, but, as far as Wei Wuxian knows, Mo Xuanyu doesn’t have much experience with children, so it’s best to get back before A-Yuan wakes up hungry and fussy. 

It must be dinner time, the food car is full of people, all looking various levels of travel worn. There’s no rushing the process, so Wei Wuxian waits patiently as the line shuffles forward, mentally picking out what he’ll get Mo Xuanyu and A-Yuan. 

Wei Wuxian is still four people back in line when suddenly the whole car seems to lunge. People scream and Wei Wuxian is thrown off his feet, slamming into his fellow passengers as they all go tumbling to one side. There’s a noise - a screeching, scraping noise so loud it drowns out the screams - the lights snap off leaving complete darkness. Everything is just the press of people together, and the growing sound, so loud it hurts - building and building to-

#

Wei Wuxian wakes up just long enough to feel a low ache through every part of his body. It’s dark where he is and then it’s darker still as unconsciousness engulfs him again. 

It’s still dark the second time he wakes up, but this time he’s conscious long enough to see that it’s not total darkness. Instead, there are small, regularly blinking lights. He breathes in and out, carefully calm, trying to remember. There’s a smell (chemical) in the room and bars (metal) on the sides of the bed. Finally the thought floats up - hospital. It’s a hospital room at night. He feels like he’s solved a great mystery and that feeling of satisfaction follows him back down into the blankness that swallows him. 

#

The third time, the room is bright. It’s daytime, but he’s still alone in a private hospital room. He can’t remember why he’s here. He puzzles on it, but doesn’t reach any conclusions before he drifts away again. 

#

The fourth time, he finally sees someone - a nurse carefully injecting medicine into the IV system. She finishes her task, briskly capping the used needle, and then just as briskly assessing first the tubes connected to him and then Wei Wuxian himself. Apparently she doesn’t expect to see him looking back, because she startles, dropping the capped syringe. “Sir!” 

He blinks slowly at her. He wants to say something clever, to tease her about her bedside manner. but he can’t keep his eyes open. He’s back in the darkness before she can say anything else. 

#

The next time Wei Wuxian wakes he feels sharper. There’s no one in the room and he can’t figure out how to summon anyone, but he stays alert until someone finally shows up. Wei Wuxian’s mouth is dry, but he manages a rough, “Hello.” 

It’s a different nurse, and, although her eyes widen, she seems more prepared than the first one. “Good morning, Mo Xuanyu, sir.” 

Mo Xuanyu? He’s not- What’s going on? Before Wei Wuxian can ask, she’s gone and then back again with a doctor. The doctor asks him questions, but they’re all very simple things about moving his toes, following lights, simple math. No one asks his name. No one explains why he’s being called by Mo Xuanyu’s. 

Finally, he has to ask, “Am I...My name is Mo Xuanyu?” 

The doctor’s expression becomes very neutral. “Do you not remember your name?” 

Wei Wuxian feels nervous, as if maybe he is the one in the wrong. “Uh…” he tries, “Mo Xuanyu?”

That is somehow the right answer, because the doctor’s face relaxes into something only baseline neutral. “Some confusion is normal. We’ll take it one day at a time, okay?” 

Despite this reassurance, the doctor turns to the nurse, ordering a series of scans. 

Wei Wuxian wants to protest, but first he needs to understand what’s going on. He can’t remember how he got here or why. Maybe there’s a reason he’s pretending to be Mo Xuanyu, one of their old pranks writ large. 

So, he doesn’t say anything, just goes along with more tests - telling simple stories, moving his legs and arms. He tries to stay vigilant, but no clues emerge during the process.

The doctor finally runs out of tests. She smiles at Wei Wuxian and tells him he’s doing very well. Wei Wuxian tries to smile back, even though he feels exhausted, like he’s run a marathon instead of only lifting his arms and legs. 

The doctor leaves. The nurse is moving around the room, she’s talking to him but Wei Wuxian can’t focus. Sleep, somehow different from the blackness that’s been following him, washes over him, swallowing his attempts to figure out what’s going on.

#

Sleep brings a dream. 

A train trip. Screeching metal. 

Wei Wuxian wakes crying out for A-Yuan, but the nurse won’t tell him anything, no matter how much he begs. Instead, they inject something into his IV and the black takes him again. 

#

Wei Wuxian wakes to find the nurse on duty watching him warily. When he only watches her back with equal caution, she leaves and returns with a new person. 

The new woman is dressed, not in the comfortable uniform of nurses or the white coat of a doctor, but in crisp professional clothes. Her eyes are sharp, evaluating Wei Wuxian in a different way than the doctor or the nurses. He evaluates her right back - a psychologist maybe, or perhaps a social worker. 

She takes a seat by his bed. “Mister Mo. My name is Zhang Min. I’m here to help you get oriented after your accident.” 

All Wei Wuxian wants to do is to make sure A-Yuan is okay, and, after that, the real Mo Xuanyu, but given the sedation of the night before it seems smarter to play along, to portray a calm he does not feel. “Thank you. It’s been confusing.” 

She smiles sympathetically. “Of course. Can you tell me what you remember?” 

Wei Wuxian thinks carefully. “I was on the train. I was- I met an old friend on the train. He had a son. Then, I’m not sure, but I think the train crashed?” 

She nods. Wei Wuxian continues, trying to get the information he needs without appearing unreasonable. “I’m worried for the child.” 

She looks at her notes, although Wei Wuxian would bet that she already knows exactly what’s there. “This is A-Yuan?” 

Wei Wuxian swallows back his fear, the need to shake the answer out of anyone who knows. “Yes. Can you tell me if-” 

He can’t finish the sentence. Tell him if A-Yuan is all right? A-Yuan has to be all right. Wei Wuxian can’t think of anything happening to A-Yuan. But even if A-Yuan is fine, he’ll be alone. They wouldn’t think Wei Wuxian was Mo Xuanyu if Mo Xuanyu could say otherwise. Mo Xuanyu must be hurt too. Wei Wuxian’s family surely will have been called. Soon they’ll see that Mo Xuanyu isn’t Wei Wuxian, they’ll get things back on track. God, if only Wei Wuxian had told his family about A-Yuan sooner, so they would know to ask after him. 

She cuts into Wei Wuxian’s racing thoughts. “Mister Mo. I’ll be happy to help you find your friend, but first I need to tell you something.”

She looks very serious. Wei Wuxian braces himself, mind flitting through the possibilities. What could she need to tell him? He’s already seen that he has all his limbs, that can’t be it. Is it his face? Is that why they don’t know who he is? 

Before he can raise his hand to check for facial wounds, she continues. “There was a train derailment. Many people were injured and many were killed.” 

A-Yuan…

She goes on relentlessly. “But that was over three years ago.” 

All Wei Wuxian’s racing thoughts stop as he stares at her blankly. What?

“You’ve been in a coma. To be honest, we weren’t sure you would ever wake up. Your family made sure you had excellent care, but it’s still a bit of a miracle for you to be awake and to be so well.” 

That can’t be right. It- It just can’t. “Three years? What… What’s the date?” 

She tells him and his breath comes faster, shaky. Over three years. A-Yuan will be seven. And his family, Lan Wangji, where do they think Wei Wuxian has been all this time? Did they think he just stopped writing? Just wandered too far to bother with them any more?

He needs more information. “Can… Can you help me find out what happened to my friend who was on the train?” 

She’s watching him with that sharp, assessing gaze. “I brought a list of the casualties. Do you think you’re up to looking at it?” 

He nods, ignoring the ache in his chest. “I’m fine.” 

She purses her lips, clearly aware of the lie, but hands over a sheet of paper with two long columns of names. Wei Wuxian reads it slowly, partially out of care not to miss anyone, and partially because the way his hands are shaking makes it difficult. 

Wei Wuxian reads each name carefully, not sure how they would have listed A-Yuan. Wei Wuxian had still been debating whether he’d change A-Yuan’s name when the official adoption went through. Uncle Jiang hadn’t changed Wei Wuxian’s own name and Wei Wuxian’s feelings on that had been mixed over the years, but A-Yuan was so much younger, the situation wasn’t quite the same. Now Wei Wuxian combs through this list of the dead, looking for both Wen Yuan and Wei Yuan. 

Wei Wuxian is nearly at the bottom of the list when he runs across a familiar name, his heart nearly stops and he can’t breathe for a moment. It’s not Wen Yuan or Wei Yuan, it’s Wei Wuxian, his own name. Wei Wuxian can’t let himself dwell on it though, not until he’s read the last few names. He gets to the end of the list and there’s no A-Yuan. He reads it again just to be sure, this time working his way backward from the end. Still no A-Yuan. The relief is nearly overwhelming.

But. His name. Wei Wuxian. 

If they think Wei Wuxian is Mo Xuanyu, they must have also thought Mo Xuanyu was him. It feels like it was only the day before, not three years ago, that Wei Wuxian had casually joked about stealing Mo Xuanyu’s identity. It feels like Wei Wuxian has somehow managed to steal his life instead. Wei Wuxian had left Mo Xuanyu surrounded by Wei Wuxian’s things, left him holding Wei Wuxian’s son, taken his ID, switched their fates, and now Mo Xuanyu, younger even than Wei Wuxian, was dead. Dead and unmourned. 

And Wei Wuxian’s own family, Lan Wangji, A-Yuan… They must have mourned. Three years they’ve thought him dead. Wei Wuxian had picked A-Yuan up out of the rubble, promised him a home, and let that promise turn to ash within only days. Had A-Yuan been hurt in the crash? Had he ended up right back in the system, more traumatized than before Wei Wuxian had tried to help him?

But how? How had Mo Xuanyu’s family not noticed for three years? It’s true that they might not have seen the height difference with Wei Wuxian in a hospital bed, but while their faces had been alike, they weren’t actually identical. Wei Wuxian had seen enough of violent death not to doubt that Mo Xuanyu’s body might have been easily mistaken, but Wei Wuxian has been healing in this bed for three years. He reaches up to touch his face, and is startled to find it wet with tears. Is he horribly disfigured after all? 

Wei Wuxian looks back at the psychologist, who is watching his tears and lowers his hand. “I’m sorry. My friend is on this list.” 

She looks sympathetic again. “I’m sorry for your loss. This must all be a huge shock.” 

“It’s hard to think that it’s been so long. It seems like it was just yesterday or maybe last week.” 

“Of course.” 

Wei Wuxian wipes away the wetness on his face and tries to find some of his old charm. “I was wondering, this is probably frivolous, but it’s been so long. Is it possible to see what I look like now?” 

Her calm acquiescence is enough to tell Wei Wuxian what he needs to know. He barely needs to look in the mirror that she brings to confirm that there’s nothing wrong with his face. He’s a little thin. Very pale. His hair is too long, and although they must have had someone shaving him, he could use another shave today, but it’s very much him. Very much not Mo Xuanyu. He can only hold the mirror for a little while before his hands start shaking too much. At least now he understands why his limbs all feel so weak. Three years...

Wei Wuxian says the things he needs to say to the psychologist and manages to wrest confirmation of his suspicions from her - ‘his’ family has not visited. He lays back in his bed staring at the ceiling once she’s left. He lets his thoughts about Mo Xuanyu’s terrible family fill his mind. Wei Wuxian doesn’t want to think about A-Yuan alone and traumatized again. He doesn’t want to think about his friends and family moving on without him. Instead, he thinks about Mo Xuanyu’s awful Aunt, never coming to see him. Not once in three years. Mo Xuanyu had hinted that his family didn’t accept him, but this is absurd. 

Wei Wuxian supposes he, in Mo Xuanyu’s stead, should be grateful that they’ve paid for this nice place, a private room. Looking around, he sees now that it’s expensive. Wei Wuxian could have been wasting away in an underfunded government hospital. He probably wouldn’t have woken up. And if he had, he might not be doing so well. The psychologist had explained the physical therapy they’d done with him, even unconscious, and the routine he could expect to start himself tomorrow. It sounded as expensive as this room looks.

Well good. Wei Wuxian resolves right then and there to take advantage of the Mo family’s money for now. They owe it, not to Wei Wuxian, but to their departed nephew. If Mo Xuanyu can’t take revenge, Wei Wuxian will do it for him. 

#

It turns out that recovering from a three year coma is no joke. Even with the fancy physical therapists funded by the Mo family’s money and Wei Wuxian’s own fierce determination, always pushing his own weakened limbs just a little bit further, it’s a long, sometimes slow, process. Wei Wuxian ends each day exhausted, almost too tired to notice the echoing loneliness of his private room. 

Wei Wuxian could change that. His family, unlike Mo Xuanyu’s, wouldn’t leave him here alone if they knew. Even after everything Wei Wuxian has put them through, he thinks they’ll welcome his resurrection. But it seems unfair to make them endure three years of grief, the years of worry before that, and then ask them to be here now - when Wei Wuxian can’t even take two steps without a physical therapist supporting half his weight. The medical staff all agree that Wei Wuxian’s prognosis is good, that with hard work he should be able to get back to his old self, so why would he burden his family until then? Let the Mo family money help Wei Wuxian return to them as much like his old self as he can be. Wei Wuxian can handle the quiet until then. 

In the meantime, Wei Wuxian manages to get online. At first, the psychologist doesn’t want him to, but Wei Wuxian charms, he wheedles, he carefully doesn’t claim to be a dead man, until finally she lets him use a tablet for a strictly limited hour a day. 

Wei Wuxian is as dead on the internet as he is elsewhere. He can’t remember the passwords to any of his rarely used social media accounts and his email seems to have gone dormant. It’s fine. Wei Wuxian doesn’t know what he would have done with that access anyway. It’s not like he can just post, ‘hey, guess what…’ and call it a day.

Still, it would have been nice to have access to his old contacts. Instead, Wei Wuxian tries to gather as much public information about his family and friends as he can. There’s nothing about A-Yuan no matter how much Wei Wuxian searches. It makes sense - A-Yuan is a minor, there’s no reason for his information to be public, but it tears at Wei Wuxian not to know, leaving room for his imagination to fill in all the terrible things that could have happened. He can’t quite ever give up looking, always thinking of some new site or new term to search. 

On the other hand, Jiang Yanli is worryingly lax with her privacy settings, which means that Wei Wuxian easily manages to find pictures of her son and learns that his name is Jin Ling. Wei Wuxian tries not to brood over missing his nephew’s birth, instead focusing on how happy his sister and her family look in her pictures, on how his nephew’s scowl reminds him hilariously of Jiang Cheng. 

Jiang Yanli’s social media turns out to be Wei Wuxian’s best insight into nearly all of his family. Even though Jiang Cheng keeps all his own social media carefully locked, he appears in some of her photos. And, aside from one or two of Jiang Yanli’s posts, Uncle Jiang and Madame Yu don’t have much of an internet presence at all. Lan Wangji would be untraceable, aside from his profile on the Lan company website (not updated in well over three years), but, although there are no pictures, Jiang Yanli’s effusive social media presence offers a hint of Lan Wangji’s life. Digging deep into her posts from the previous year, Wei Wuxian finds a reference to Lan Wangji attending Jin Ling’s birthday party with his own son. 

At that Wei Wuxian has to stop his internet time early for the day. Lan Wangji has a child? Lan Wangji who has never looked at a woman in all the time that Wei Wuxian has known him? The idea of missing such a development makes Wei Wuxian’s chest ache. He thought he knew Lan Zhan, even when everyone else said Lan Wangji was unknowable, and now Wei Wuxian has missed so much. Now he’s just one of the crowd of people outside Lan Wangji’s life.

The next day, Wei Wuxian gathers his courage and spends his whole hour looking first for wedding announcements and then for birth announcements. Surely the great Lan family wouldn’t let one of their twin jades marry without celebration? Surely they’d proclaim the birth of a new generation? Wei Wuxian can’t find anything. 

He’s left to wonder how old Lan Wangji’s son is. Had Lan Wangji already met the boy’s mother when Wei Wuxian was bringing A-Yuan to him? Would Lan Wangji have answered the door with a child in tow, or would he have told Wei Wuxian about a woman with that rare, small smile? In college, most people wouldn’t even believe Wei Wuxian when he told them that Lan Wangji could smile, but Lan Wangji’s wife must see it now. Maybe their son has inherited that sweet smile. 

The three years seem longer than usual that night. Wei Wuxian has a hard time falling asleep, smothered by the weight of lost years and a low, aching loneliness. 

Eventually, the doctors, the physical therapists, even the psychologist, all agree that Wei Wuxian is as ready to face the world as they can make him. Wei Wuxian suspects they’ve kept him there longer than they would have kept a different patient in his condition. The other patients all seem to go home still leaning on crutches, still expected for out-patient therapy. But those people are constantly attended by family members, by partners and friends. Mo Xuanyu’s family never comes, and his therapists keep setting a higher standard that Wei Wuxian needs to meet before they’ll release him.

It takes time, but Wei Wuxian meets all their goals, and then spends three days being fussed over by staff who make sure that he has Mo Xuanyu’s ID, his updated credit cards, all his paperwork, something to wear - all the things that family members do for the other patients. Wei Wuxian hopes that Mo Xuanyu’s aunt is paying them for all their extra effort, but suspects not. Wei Wuxian tries to repay their care as much as he can with his smiles and words of gratitude. 

On the day that Wei Wuxian actually leaves, he makes sure to carefully tuck the paper with ‘his’ aunt’s address into his pocket, and offers handshakes and hugs to all the staff who come to see him off. Luckily, the facility is not too far from where Wei Wuxian grew up, tucked away in the sprawl that stretches out around the city. 

Wei Wuxian makes himself take the train into the city. It’s not as bad as he thought it might be. Maybe it’s good that the accident knocked him unconscious nearly right away, because the train scares him less than the small dog being toted through the station in a bag. 

Once in the city, Wei Wuxian uses Mo Xuanyu’s cards to buy himself some more clothes, some toiletries, a backpack to carry it all in - a familiar shape on his back, missing only the weight of his laptop. He gets a haircut, some lunch, and then makes his largest purchase - reserving a headstone for Mo Xuanyu. As soon as Wei Wuxian finds out where his family buried Mo Xuanyu, he’s going to make sure the grave is properly marked and it seems only right that Mo Xuanyu’s family pays for it. Wei Wuxian makes sure to buy the most expensive stone they offer. 

Afterward, Wei Wuxian finds a post office and writes a letter to Mo Xuanyu’s aunt. It’s a long letter, explaining everything. Explaining that she could have avoided all of it, if only she’d visited her nephew even once. When Wei Wuxian has written all he needs to say, he folds the letter around Mo Xuanyu’s cards and around the ID that shows a face so like Wei Wuxian’s own. He has it sent at the slowest, cheapest rate. 

Then he walks the two blocks to Jiang Cheng’s. 

#

Wei Wuxian had thought a lot about how to let people know what had happened, about how to get back in touch with his family and friends. It wasn’t a question with an easy answer. It had been so long and it was such a series of ridiculous events that it was almost impossible to explain. 

On Wei Wuxian’s bad days, when he didn’t think that he’d ever be able to walk across a room alone, or when the loneliness ate at him, it had seemed like it might have just been easier if he’d never woken up. But then, no matter how difficult it was, no matter the circumstances, if Wei Wuxian had thought someone he’d loved was dead and they’d turned out not to be, wouldn’t he be happy? He’d used to dream about that exact scenario for years after his parents had died. Even after everything that had come of being left behind - the bad homes, the streets, the dogs - if his mother or father had just showed up one morning, Wei Wuxian would have been thrilled. If it happened today, he still would be thrilled. 

Wei Wuxian hopes his family see it the same way. He hopes they don’t blame him for leaving them for so long, for putting them through so much when he could have been safely working in an office for all those years. 

But even if they are happy to see Wei Wuxian in the end, it’s the start that puzzles him. Wei Wuxian can’t think of any good way to break the news. He can’t find any way to avoid shocking them, to avoid dragging up feelings of loss and grief. He’s run through each possibility in his mind a hundred times. He could email or message, but that would seem like a prank. He could call, but that’s hardly any better. Showing up in person is the fastest way to convince someone, but is it enough of a surprise to be cruel? 

Then there’s the question of who to tell first. It would be easiest if Wei Wuxian could call all his friends and family to one place, but that might be something that only works in mystery novels. If it hadn’t been three years ago, Wei Wuxian could have embraced the cliché and crashed his own funeral, but the window has long since passed for that strategy. So Wei Wuxian had to pick someone. 

Wei Wuxian had ruled out Uncle Jiang and Madam Yu immediately on two points. The first is that they’re too old - Wei Wuxian won’t be the thing that gives Uncle Jiang a heart attack. The second is more selfish - Wei Wuxian doesn’t think he can handle Madam Yu’s likely disappointment. He’s disappointed her in many ways over the years, maybe in all ways, but Wei Wuxian doesn’t need to witness the concrete proof that his merely living pains her. 

Then Wei Wuxian had considered that it might be easiest to start with someone who wouldn’t have been as affected by his death in the first place. One of his friends from school, Nie Huaisang or Mianmian maybe. There would be less old grief to dredge up and both of them are practical people. Almost certainly, either of them could come up with a better ‘coming back from the dead’ plan than Wei Wuxian. But something about telling them before he’s even told the people closest to him sits wrong with Wei Wuxian. If Lan Zhan came back from the dead and told Mianmian before him, Wei Wuxian would be pretty upset. 

So it had to be either his siblings or Lan Wangji. In the end Wei Wuxian chooses Jiang Cheng for the simple reason that Jiang Cheng doesn’t have children. Wei Wuxian doesn’t see the need to create a scene in front of a child just because he couldn’t stay dead. 

And so, lacking whatever master plan Nie Huaisang or Mianmian might have come up with, Wei Wuxian simply shows up at his brother’s door on the random Thursday of his release. 

#

Wei Wuxian’s careful internet research had revealed that Jiang Cheng still lives at the same apartment he’d purchased (with the help of his parents) when he’d been hired at his first job after college. The same apartment that had initially been for the both of them before Wei Wuxian had thrown it all away to wander the world. What Wei Wuxian hadn’t considered is that Jiang Cheng is exactly the sort of person who probably works late every night. No doubt that’s why he keeps getting promoted, but it’s very inconvenient for any brothers planning a dramatic return from the dead.

The fear and excitement that are churning through Wei Wuxian fizzle slightly when he realizes that Jiang Cheng isn’t home. Wei Wuxian doesn’t have a watch or a phone, so he can only use the sun to guess that Jiang Cheng might not be back for an hour or more. Wei Wuxian just hopes that Jiang Cheng doesn’t go out for drinks after work or that he hasn’t found a girlfriend to spend his nights with. Wei Wuxian laughs to himself as he settles in for a wait - how anticlimactic and how poorly planned. Maybe he should have gone to Nie Huaisang after all.

The sun is getting low in the sky when Wei Wuxian hears familiar footsteps approaching. It’s been three years, and much of thirteen years before that, but Wei Wuxian still recognizes the stride. It gives him time to scramble up from the cold, concrete floor where he’d been waiting, to stand awkwardly by Jiang Cheng’s door. All the excitement and fear returns in a rush, and Wei Wuxian is still not sure what to say now that the moment is nearly here. 

Jiang Cheng is sorting through his keys, and Wei Wuxian has a moment to study him before he looks up. Jiang Cheng seems older, with new lines around his eyes and mouth. He still appears young, younger than his age even, but a little worn and Wei Wuxian hopes that’s not because of him. 

Then Jiang Cheng looks up and his keys fall to the floor. Jiang Cheng has always been pale, but he goes paler, every little freckle standing out on his face. Wei Wuxian wishes again that there was some good way to do this, wishes even more that he didn’t have to, that the train had never crashed, that he’d never put his brother through any part of this. 

“Wei- Wei Wuxian?” Jiang Cheng asks, his voice shaking. 

“Jiang Cheng.” Wei Wuxian’s voice is hardly any steadier. 

And then Jiang Cheng is striding over to him, keys forgotten on the ground. He grasps Wei Wuxian’s shoulder, as if not sure if he wants to shake Wei Wuxian or pull him into a hug. “How? We buried you.” 

Wei Wuxian’s carefully rehearsed explanation disappears in the face of Jiang Cheng, in the reality of seeing his brother after the long, lonely weeks in rehab. Wei Wuxian can’t speak, pulling Jiang Cheng into a hug instead. For once, Jiang Cheng allows it without the ritual of feigned rejection and eventual concession, without making Wei Wuxian insist. Jiang Cheng lets Wei Wuxian wrap his arms around him and even pulls Wei Wuxian close in turn. Close enough for Wei Wuxian to hear how raggedly Jiang Cheng is breathing, how near he is to tears.

Jiang Cheng’s silent grief and anger rip at Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian has hurt his family too many times and this the worst of all. Wei Wuxian’s eyes are wet and his throat hurts with swallowed grief, but what do his feelings matter in this moment? “I’m sorry.” 

Jiang Cheng steps back. His eyes are still wild, although he’s caught his breath. “How, Wei Wuxian? No. Why? Why would you do this?” 

“I didn’t, I promise, Jiang Cheng. It’s a long story.” 

Jiang Cheng, whose first reaction to anything uncomfortable has always been anger, doesn’t yell or fume. He only takes a breath, then turns to pick up his keys. He leads Wei Wuxian into the apartment, not even bothering to take his coat off, just sitting on the couch and waiting for Wei Wuxian to do the same. “Tell me.” 

Wei Wuxian sits across from Jiang Cheng and tries his best to tell it. Wei Wuxian has thought through telling the story many times, but it still come out broken, the pieces not following clearly from each other. 

When Wei Wuxian explains the coma, Jiang Cheng’s brow furrows. “But you’re okay?” 

“Of course,” Wei Wuxian says with a bright smile, eliding the hours of physical therapy it took to get him here. Skipping over how tired he still gets at the end of the day. 

When Wei Wuxian finally runs out of story fragments, Jiang Cheng throws himself back into the couch, slouching against the cushions in his heavy coat. “That all sounds impossible, which is how I know it’s true. You always did make the impossible happen.” 

Wei Wuxian smiles again and Jiang Cheng smiles back, a complicated expression that manages to be sad and happy at the same time. “I missed you,” Jiang Cheng says. 

Wei Wuxian feels tears threatening again. Jiang Cheng is never so open with his feelings, preferring always to hide them under a mask of brotherly irritation. This simple declaration more than anything makes it obvious how hurt he was by Wei Wuxian’s supposed death. “I missed you too.” 

Jiang Cheng scoffs, some of his old irritation returning. “How? You were asleep!” 

Wei Wuxian laughs through his tears. Maybe it will be okay after all.

#

Jiang Cheng is insistent that they tell the rest of the family right away. Wei Wuxian agrees. Although it feels like he barely survived one revelation, he wants nothing more than to see Jiang Yanli and Uncle Jiang again. Hopefully having Jiang Cheng on his team will make things easier this time. At least Jiang Cheng can call them up and tell them he has news, can give them that little bit of warning. 

Jiang Cheng tells his parents that he wants to come over to tell them something, and then convinces Jiang Yanli to come as well. 

During the phone call with Jiang Yanli, Wei Wuxian gestures at Jiang Cheng to put her on speaker, impatient to hear his sister’s voice after so long. This has the added advantage of letting Wei Wuxian hear her teasing speculation about what Jiang Cheng wants to share, each suggestion more absurd than the last. Wei Wuxian struggles to keep his laughter silent as Jiang Cheng grimaces through the teasing. 

After Jiang Cheng hangs up, he glares at Wei Wuxian. “Here you are, back from the dead for less than an hour and already finding a way to embarrass me!” Jiang Cheng ruins his supposed anger by pulling Wei Wuxian into a one-armed hug. 

“Ah, Jiang Cheng. I’m just glad to see things haven’t changed too much.” 

#

On the trip over to his parents, Jiang Cheng frets over how to best break the news. Wei Wuxian feels slightly vindicated for the mess he’d made of it with Jiang Cheng. “See! It’s not easy.” 

Jiang Cheng only glares at that. 

The house is the same one they grew up in, the same one that Wei Wuxian had left behind so many years ago. It looks mostly unchanged from the outside, the door painted a different color and some of the old bushes gone from the front, but still so familiar. 

Jiang Cheng indicates the car parked out front. “Oh good, Jiejie is here already.” 

They go inside, Wei Wuxian trailing behind Jiang Cheng, feeling almost as out of place as he had the first day that Uncle Jiang brought him here and told him that this large, unknown house would his home from now on. 

Wei Wuxian can hear the quiet murmur of voices from the living room, Jiang Yanli’s soft tones responding to Madam Yu’s sharp ones. Jiang Cheng gestures for Wei Wuxian to wait just outside the room. For a moment it’s like they’re playing one of their childhood pranks again, but when Jiang Cheng leaves, Wei Wuxian’s heart pounds not with the anticipation of mischief, but with the same anxiety and guilt he’d felt outside Jiang Cheng’s door. 

Wei Wuxian can hear nearly as well as if he was in the room, although he has to imagine her expression when Jiang Yanli says, “A-Cheng, we’re very excited for this mystery news!” Jiang Yanli sounds carefree, Jiang Cheng had told them it was good news after all. Wei Wuxian wonders if she’ll be as happy in a moment.

Uncle Jiang’s voice joins in. “Yes, Jiang Cheng, we’re looking forward to it.” He sounds like he’s smiling, probably the same indulgently proud smile he has for all his children. He’d smiled at Wei Wuxian like that, even when Wei Wuxian had caused some new trouble at school and even after Wei Wuxian had wasted his college degree, abandoning the family Uncle Jiang had given him.

Jiang Cheng pauses then says uncertainly, “It’s good news, but very shocking so please…” He trails off, but Wei Wuxian can hear the ending - don’t have a heart attack, don’t be angry, don’t be sad. 

“Jiang Cheng?” Jiang Yanli sounds worried now.

“It’s good news!” Jiang Cheng insists. “I- I have someone here to see you.” 

Madam Yu has reached the end of her short patience. “Well, bring them in. It’s rude to make them hover in the halls.” 

“Right…” Jiang Cheng apparently reaches the same conclusion that Wei Wuxian had - there’s no good way to do this. He ducks back into the hall just long enough to grab Wei Wuxian by the shoulder and steers him into the room without further attempt at explanation. 

There’s silence as the three of them stare at Wei Wuxian with shock and Wei Wuxian looks back, heart twisting as he takes in the differences since the last time he saw them. They all look older, Uncle Jiang especially. The silence stretches, suffocating. Wei Wuxian is filled with a terrible urge to say ‘surprise!’ Anything to break the quiet. 

He regrets the thought immediately as the silence is broken by the sound of Jiang Yanli crying. Before despair can swamp Wei Wuxian entirely, Uncle Jiang is on his feet. He strides over and cups Wei Wuxian’s face in his hands. “A-Xian.” 

Wei Wuxian tries to smile. “Uncle.” 

Uncle Jiang pulls Wei Wuxian into a hug so tight it’s almost enough to make Wei Wuxian feel like that small child that Uncle Jiang had rescued from the streets, safe at last here. 

Then Jiang Yanli is there, wrapping her arms around the both of them, still crying and asking through her tears, “A-Xian, how?” 

From inside their hugs Wei Wuxian can hear Madam Yu. “That’s a good question,” she says, but, for once, she doesn’t sound sharp, only genuinely bewildered. 

Wei Wuxian can’t make himself pull out of his family’s embrace to speak, so he’s grateful when Jiang Cheng says, “It’s a long story, I’ll try to tell it.” 

As Jiang Cheng does his best to explain the ridiculousness of Wei Wuxian’s life, Uncle Jiang pulls the three of them back to the couch, keeping Wei Wuxian wedged between him and Jiang Yanli. Jiang Cheng, a good son, pulls up a chair next to his mother’s. 

Jiang Cheng stumbles here and there, and Wei Wuxian breaks into the story to clarify and to reassure. In the end, the two of them have to tell the story three times over in looping pieces before everyone is satisfied. Jiang Yanli holds on to Wei Wuxian the whole time, as if he might disappear again if she lets go.

There are more hugs and more tears. Eventually Madam Yu reaches the end of her tolerance for emotional displays and bustles off to procure dinner for all of them. After a moment, Uncle Jiang follows in her wake. Jiang Cheng replaces him next to Wei Wuxian, and, on Wei Wuxian’s other side, Jiang Yanli still seems unwilling to let go of Wei Wuxian. She texts her husband with one hand, letting him know that she’ll be home later than she expected. She laughs a little. “He’s not even going to believe me when I try to explain why!”

Jiang Yanli leans into Wei Wuxian’s side. The three of them sit quietly for a moment, three siblings in their childhood home, letting the years and the grief fall away, just relieved to be together again. 

Jiang Yanli breaks the silence. “A-Xian, what will you do now?” 

“I… I don’t know. I…” 

Jiang Cheng says roughly, “Don’t worry about it. You can stay with me for as long as you need to.” 

Wei Wuxian nods, but has to add, “I need to see Lan Zhan.” 

Jiang Yanli’s hand moves on his arm, and Wei Wuxian turns to her, seeing a look of surprise on her face. “You haven’t told Lan Wangji yet?” 

Wei Wuxian wants to protest the idea that he would tell any one other than his dearest siblings first, but the truth is he had debated going to Lan Wangji first, so he just shrugs.

Jiang Yanli seems to find this urgent. “Oh, you’ll have to do that right away! And you’ll want to see A-Yuan, of course.” 

Wei Wuxian’s heart stops. He can’t- his lungs aren’t working either. Jiang Yanli’s expression turns concerned and her fingers wrap tightly around his arm again. “A-Xian?”

Wei Wuxian manages a whisper. “You know where A-Yuan is? I couldn’t-” 

Jiang Yanli looks at Jiang Cheng, her eyes wide. “You didn’t tell him?” 

Jiang Cheng protests, “I thought he knew!” 

Wei Wuxian has no attention for this exchange, he takes Jiang Yanli’s free hand with both of his, begging. “Jiejie, please. I couldn’t find anything about what happened. Is he okay? Where is he? Please.” 

She lets go of his arm for the first time since he appeared, using her hand to cover his instead. “He’s fine, A-Xian.” 

Wei Wuxian gasps, suddenly able to breathe freely again. 

Jiang Yanli hesitates, searching Wei Wuxian’s face for something - he doesn’t know what. “Lan Wangji adopted him.” 

All the tension, all the fear that Wei Wuxian has been carrying since the train shuddered underneath him, since Wei Wuxian woke and found no trace of his son, it all leaves him now. Lan Zhan. Of course, Lan Zhan. Wei Wuxian closes his eyes, trying and failing to push back tears of relief. Lan Zhan is so good. Of course Lan Wangji would never let Wei Wuxian’s son experience the things Wei Wuxian had gone through before the Jiang’s found him. Of course. Wei Wuxian been headed to Lan Wangji then, and, even without Wei Wuxian there to ask, Lan Wangji had still reached out his hand to offer the exact help that Wei Wuxian had needed, that A-Yuan had needed. 

Jiang Yanli squeezes Wei Wuxian’s hands. “A-Xian, are you okay?” 

Wei Wuxian opens his eyes to see that she still looks worried. He smiles, extracting a hand to brush away the tears. “I’m great. I’m relieved. I’m sure Lan Zhan is a great dad. A-Yuan must be very happy.” 

A question occurs to Wei Wuxian now that he finally has someone who can answer. “Was A-Yuan hurt in the accident?” 

Jiang Yanli squeezes his hand comfortingly again. “Just a broken arm, and he healed quickly.” 

Wei Wuxian lets out a relieved breath. “That’s good.” He laughs suddenly. “You know, I saw online that Lan Zhan had a child and I was worried that I’d missed Lan Zhan finding a wife.” 

Jiang Cheng scoffs and shares an incredulous look with Jiang Yanli. She says delicately, “I don’t think… I don’t think Lan Wangji will ever find a wife.” 

Oh. Well, Wei Wuxian had suspected as much back before he woke up and it suddenly seemed like he didn’t know anything about Lan Wangji at all. Lan Wangji had never said directly and Wei Wuxian had never asked, but it must be true if even Jiang Yanli knows. 

“Ah well, a partner then.” 

Jiang Cheng makes another noise, but Jiang Yanli ignores him this time. “Lan Wangji hasn’t had anyone new since you’ve been gone.” 

Wei Wuxian should perhaps feel sad that his friend is alone, but he only feels pleased. “Good.” 

“Good?” Jiang Cheng repeats. 

Ah, what a cruel thing to say! “I mean. I only mean that I didn’t miss anything important.” 

“Right.” Jiang Cheng doesn’t sound convinced. 

Before Wei Wuxian has time to convince him, Uncle Jiang and Madam Yu are back, ushering everyone into the dining room. Over dinner they all trip over each other to update Wei Wuxian on everything that has happened in his absence. They focus on the good things, but every so often a gap will open in the stories, “That was after- well, that was about three years ago” someone will say, and they’ll all move on quickly to happier topics. 

Everyone’s favorite topic is Jin Ling. They tell Wei Wuxian about Jin Ling’s birth, his first words, and his love of sweets. Some of these stories involve A-Yuan too. Jiang Yanli has treated A-Yuan like a cousin to Jin Ling, and he’s been invited to every birthday party and holiday celebration. Jiang Yanli shows Wei Wuxian the pictures she has of Jin Ling and A-Yuan on her phone. Wei Wuxian treasures each picture of A-Yuan, each piece of proof that A-Yuan is healthy and happy, even as they make it obvious how much time Wei Wuxian has missed. His favorite of the pictures are the ones that show Lan Wangji too, and Lan Wangji’s obvious affection for his son. Well, obvious to Wei Wuxian anyway, and, from the happy expression on A-Yuan’s face, obvious to A-Yuan as well. 

At the end of the meal no one wants to part, but after a few more hugs, more tears, and some painfully sincere words, they manage it. On the way back, Jiang Cheng stops to buy Wei Wuxian a cheap phone. Jiang Cheng types in all the numbers that Wei Wuxian might need and Wei Wuxian immediately texts his family, receiving another wave of sincere messages from his Uncle and from Jiang Yanli in response. Jiang Yanli also sends a selection of pictures of A-Yuan and Jin Ling, which Wei Wuxian gratefully saves to his new phone. 

Back at Jiang Cheng’s apartment, Wei Wuxian is ready to crawl into the spare bed and go straight to sleep. No amount of grueling physical therapy could have prepared him for the stress and emotions of this day. He’s going to need his rest to get up tomorrow and do it all over again with Lan Wangji. But Jiang Cheng keeps coming up with reasons to linger, and Wei Wuxian can understand that. There’s a part of Wei Wuxian that fears he’ll go to sleep and wake up back in rehab, and it must be worse for Jiang Cheng, so Wei Wuxian can give Jiang Cheng his attention, even as his body aches with exhaustion. 

Jiang Cheng seems to be having trouble deciding what to say. He keeps looking at Wei Wuxian as if he’ll speak and then away. Finally he says, “You need to be kind to Lan Wangji tomorrow. Losing you was very hard on him.” 

Jiang Cheng says this with a tone that indicates there’s a deeper meaning that Wei Wuxian should understand, but Wei Wuxian can’t think what it could be. He’s surprised that Jiang Cheng is concerned enough about Lan Wangji to say anything at all. They’d never been very close before. And Lan Wangji is so steady, no doubt he’d been steady through this as well. “Of course.” 

Jiang Cheng, shakes his head, frustrated. “Do you really not know what I mean?” 

Wei Wuxian does not. “Jiang Cheng, I can tell you in all sincerity, I really do not know what you mean.” 

Jiang Cheng sighs. “Jiejie doesn’t want me to tell you this, she thinks you need to figure it out yourself, but I think we’ve all wasted enough time, so I’m just going to be blunt.” 

Wei Wuxian would smile, when isn’t Jiang Cheng blunt? But what could Jiang Yanli think shouldn’t be shared? 

Wei Wuxian is not expecting Jiang Cheng to say. “Lan Wangji is in love with you.” 

That’s- that’s ridiculous. Perfect Lan Wangji who could have anyone? Perfect Lan Wangji with his model good looks, and his staggering intelligence, and most of all his gentle kindness? It’s not that Wei Wuxian hasn’t wanted, considered, maybe even longed, but it’s a fundamental fact, a cornerstone of Wei Wuxian’s world, that Lan Wangji is beyond his reach. Wei Wuxian is lucky enough to count Lan Wangji a friend. 

Wei Wuxian can’t look at Jiang Cheng, but he makes himself laugh. “Jiang Cheng, don’t tease. Lan Zhan wouldn’t like it.” 

“Wei Wuxian,” Jiang Cheng says, serious enough that Wei Wuxian has to meet his eyes, “I was the one who had to tell him you died. Trust me, he loves you.” 

Wei Wuxian doesn’t want to think about that, can’t consider how much that news must have hurt Lan Wangji if what Jiang Cheng says is true. Wei Wuxian doesn’t want to be another loss for Lan Wangji, another grief to be calmly carried. “No.” 

Jiang Cheng is firm. “Yes. And- Wei Wuxian, didn’t it occur to you to ask why Lan Wangji is raising your child? Not your brother, not your sister, not even your adoptive parents?” 

Wei Wuxian flinches at the idea of Madam Yu raising A-Yuan, but Jiang Cheng is continuing, “How many best friends would do that?”

“Lan Zhan is a good person. That doesn’t mean-” 

Jiang Cheng shakes his head. “Look, I’m not saying you owe him anything. If you don’t feel that way, that’s fine. Maybe Jiejie was right, maybe you need to see it for yourself, but...” Jiang Cheng searches for the end of the sentence, then gives up and sighs. “Just- just be kind.” 

Jiang Cheng seems to feel his job is done and he heads to bed, leaving Wei Wuxian alone with his spinning thoughts. But… But even if what Jiang Cheng thinks, even if that was true, that was nearly four years ago now. Lan Wangji, if Jiang Cheng wasn’t totally wrong, has had a long time to get over Wei Wuxian. Lan Wangji’s life is completely different now - he’s a father, his priorities have changed. Lan Wangji, if he had ever loved Wei Wuxian, has surely moved on by now. And that’s assuming Jiang Cheng knows what he’s talking about, which... No. Not about this. 

Wei Wuxian’s exhaustion is heavy enough to silence even these thoughts, sleep sweeping him under as soon as he lays down. 

#

In the morning, Wei Wuxian doesn’t let Jiang Cheng’s revelation resurface in his mind. Instead, he focuses on basics of his day. 

Jiang Yanli had suggested that Wei Wuxian approach Lan Wangji while A-Yuan is at school. Wei Wuxian had agreed, as much as he wants to see A-Yuan as soon as possible, it’s Lan Wangji’s decision now. Wei Wuxian uses his new phone to figure out the best bus route to the address Jiang Yanli had given him and begs some money off of Jiang Cheng. Jiang Cheng had offered to drive Wei Wuxian, but for some reason the idea of his brother lurking in the background of this moment didn’t seem right. Wei Wuxian packs Jiang Cheng off to work, joking that “my brother is back from the dead,” isn’t a recognized excuse to be late. 

“It’s called a personal day, moron,” Jiang Cheng retorts, but he lets Wei Wuxian slip away, giving Wei Wuxian a look that’s a little too understanding. Whatever. If Wei Wuxian knows Jiang Cheng, he’ll be better off after processing his emotions through some spreadsheets. 

On the bus to Lan Wangji’s, Wei Wuxian watches the city pass by, trying not to be nervous about one more emotional reappearance. It seems like, as with anything, it should get easier the more times he does it, but it doesn’t feel any easier. Wei Wuxian wishes he could move past the shock, the old hurt, and just skip to being happy to see one another. He remembers how happy it had always made him to see Lan Wangji, no matter how terrible things might have been before, no matter what awful tragedy he was going to next. No matter what, seeing Lan Zhan had brightened everything for a moment. 

Wei Wuxian wishes he could skip back all the years he lost, to a world where the train hadn’t crashed, one where he’d made it to Lan Wangji after all. He imagines that Lan Wangji would have been shocked to see Wei Wuxian appear at his door with a child, but even then, Wei Wuxian had believed unquestioningly that Lan Wangji would help him. If there’s one thing that all this lost time has given Wei Wuxian, it’s proof that he was right. Wei Wuxian didn’t even have to make it himself, and still Lan Wangji had stepped in, had given A-Yuan the home that Wei Wuxian had wanted A-Yuan to have. 

Back then, even before A-Yuan, Wei Wuxian had suspected that Lan Wangji would like to see Wei Wuxian settle down. Lan Wangji had never said so, but where most of Wei Wuxian’s friends from school, in the rare moments when they’d met up, had delighted in hearing stories of the scary situations that Wei Wuxian had barely escaped, Lan Wangji hadn’t. Oh, he’d always praised Wei Wuxian’s writing in that quiet way of his. Lan Wangji had respected Wei Wuxian’s work. But Wei Wuxian’s stories of daring and danger had made that little line appear between Lan Wangji’s eyebrows, the one that meant he was upset. Lan Wangji didn’t push, he just asked, as he always had, that Wei Wuxian would be careful.

The one time that Lan Wangji had come close to saying anything more than that was maybe a year before the earthquake - before A-Yuan, and before the train. Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji had met for only a day, all Wei Wuxian could spare, in a country neither of them had ever been to before. Wei Wuxian had insisted on meeting Lan Wangji two borders and seventy miles from the brewing civil war that Wei Wuxian was covering. Even that had felt too close to the danger, to the suffering, and Wei Wuxian had been on edge all day as they explored the city, rambling through the nicest streets, and eating the local food. It one thing for Wei Wuxian to wade through that kind of muck, but he couldn’t stand the idea of any of it touching Lan Wangji. At dinner that night, Lan Wangji seemed to sense Wei Wuxian’s unrest. When Wei Wuxian had insisted that nothing was wrong, Lan Wangji hadn’t disagreed, but he had said, “Wei Ying, you could write beautifully about anything. Anywhere. It doesn’t have to be this.” 

Lan Wangji hadn’t said any more about it, but Wei Wuxian had held that compliment in his heart, not just because it was a lot for Lan Wangji to say all at once, but because the idea of doing something else had stuck with him. A whole fantasy trailed behind that idea - having somewhere to call home, a bed of his own, being able to see Lan Wangji and his family for more than scraps of time. When Wei Wuxian had found A-Yuan, it didn’t take much to mentally add A-Yuan to that dream. If the train had only kept on the tracks, Wei Wuxian might already be living that dream. 

Regret doesn’t change the past and it doesn’t stop Wei Wuxian from arriving at Lan Wangji’s door. Wei Wuxian hovers for a moment, heart pounding. But he has to do it - he can’t linger here between life and death like a cat in a thought experiment. 

Wei Wuxian knocks.

Lan Wangji is prompt to respond to the knock, considerate as always. For a split second Lan Wangji’s expression is just the blank politeness he would offer any delivery person. Wei Wuxian has the briefest moment to admire how unchanged Lan Wangji looks, still handsome in a way that seems unreal, still neatly put together, maybe a little conservative in his style. Classic, Wei Wuxian has always thought.

Then, Lan Wangji - whose expressions are usually so imperceptible that it took Wei Wuxian a decade of friendship before he could be certain that Lan Wangji found his jokes funny, the Lan Wangji whose icy exterior has been marveled at by nearly everyone who’s met him - Lan Wangji’s face crumples, naked emotion on display for anyone to see. Grief, hope, fear, confusion, all legible, all visible. 

“Wei Ying?” Lan Wangji’s voice breaks - a question and a plea.

It feels like something in Wei Wuxian’s chest cracks in response as he meets Lan Wangji’s desperate gaze. “Lan Zhan. Oh, Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian reaches out to him. 

Lan Wangji shies away from Wei Wuxian, but then, in the very next second, reverses himself, grabbing Wei Wuxian’s hand. Lan Wangji’s fingers tremble on Wei Wuxian’s wrist and Lan Wangji’s eyes widen, as if he didn’t expect the touch, even though he was the one to do the touching. “Wei Ying,” he says again, still pleading.

“Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian grasps Lan Wangji’s wrist in turn, hand not much steadier, aching with one thought: Maybe Jiang Cheng was right. There’s no joy in the thought, because, right now, all it means is that Lan Wangji is hurting. In this moment, Wei Wuxian would trade just about anything to wipe the devastation from Lan Wangji’s face, even Lan Wangji’s love. 

Of course, Wei Wuxian doesn’t have any way of erasing the last few years, he can’t actually make a trade with the universe. Instead, he does the only thing he can do, which is to pull Lan Wangji to him, to wrap Lan Wangji’s trembling body against Wei Wuxian’s own, as if maybe Wei Wuxian can hold Lan Wangji tight enough or long enough to leech this pain from him. Lan Wangji lets himself be pulled in, wraps his arms around Wei Wuxian in turn, holding Wei Wuxian tightly, as if Wei Wuxian might slip away if he relaxes for even a moment. Lan Wangji buries his face in the crook of Wei Wuxian’s neck and Wei Wuxian runs a hand over Lan Wangji’s soft hair, down his back, offering what comfort Wei Wuxian can - even as he is also the source of the pain.

He’s trying to soothe Lan Wangji, but Wei Wuxian finds himself also taking comfort from the embrace. Lan Wangji’s warmth, his familiar scent, the soft sound of his breath, all of it is soothing something in Wei Wuxian’s chest that Wei Wuxian hadn’t even realized was aching. 

“Lan Zhan,” he says again, when Lan Wangji’s breathing has evened out. “Let me explain.” 

Lan Wangji pulls out of the hug. The loss of his warmth makes Wei Wuxian regret saying anything, maybe they just should have stayed wrapped together forever. But the hug has done its job, Lan Wangji’s expression is back to neutral - only flickering slightly as he catches sight of the still open door behind Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian wants to reassure Lan Wangji that none of his neighbors saw anything, but Wei Wuxian had been completely focused on Lan Wangji, for all Wei Wuxian knows there had been a parade in the halls. Lan Wangji closes the door and closes his expression. The world and Wei Wuxian locked out again.

Lan Wangji leads Wei Wuxian deeper into the unfamiliar apartment, and Lan Wangji calmly sits, indicating that Wei Wuxian should do the same. He watches Wei Wuxian, expectantly, almost warily, but still with that terrible wall between them. 

“I came back as soon as I could,” Wei Wuxian starts, not fully understanding Lan Wangji’s caution, but wanting to reassure him of that, at least, before anything else. Lan Wangji only waits, expectant still, so Wei Wuxian launches into the story again. He’s told it so many times in the last day, to Jiang Cheng and then three times with Jiang Cheng for the rest of his family. Wei Wuxian had told it to himself on the way here on the bus today and on the train yesterday, but he still can’t find a good way to say it, can’t make it seem reasonable. 

The story does nothing to reduce Lan Wangji’s wariness. He listens with a small line of concentration between his eyebrows, focused but unswayed. When Wei Wuxian explains the confusion, explains that it was Mo Xuanyu who died, Lan Wangji closes his eyes for a long moment. Grief? For Mo Xuanyu, who he’d only tolerated? But when Lan Wangji opens his eyes, his face has smoothed out again, the line between his eyebrows is gone. Lan Wangji lets Wei Wuxian tell the rest of the story, but now Lan Wangji seems vaguely amused, wistful perhaps. It’s obvious to Wei Wuxian that Lan Wangji doesn’t believe him. 

Wei Wuxian doesn’t know what to do. Lan Wangji has always believed him. Or, more precisely, Lan Wangji has always believed Wei Wuxian when Wei Wuxian told the truth. Lan Wangji had only ever pretended to believe Wei Wuxian’s lies. Wei Wuxian would claim he was always careful, that his last story hadn’t been as dangerous as it sounded, and Lan Wangji would pretend to believe it. A shared untruth, a little ritual, but still underneath it they’d understood each other. Wei Wuxian doesn’t know what to do now that he’s lost the silent understanding that he’s had with Lan Wangji since high school. Their connection that never seemed to fade, no matter how many months it was between their meetings. 

Wei Wuxian tries again, looping back through the story, re-explaining, hoping for some sign of belief. Nothing. He finally has to give up, winding to a halting stop. When it’s clear that Wei Wuxian doesn’t have anything else to add, Lan Wangji smiles at Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian’s heart leaps and then falls - it’s a bittersweet smile, somehow more sad than anything. “Ridiculous,” Lan Wangji says.

“Lan Zhan… It’s true. I- What can I do?” Wei Wuxian leans forward, desperate, and takes one of Lan Wangji’s hands again, seeking whatever connection he can find. 

Lan Wangji studies him, still smiling that little, bitter smile. Lan Wangji uses their connected hands to pull Wei Wuxian forward. “You can come here before it’s over.” 

Wei Wuxian is confused, but lets Lan Wangji pull him close, then closer still, and then Lan Wangji’s mouth is on his and- Fuck. Lan Wangji’s lips are as soft as Wei Wuxian had always imagined, and his hand is gentle on Wei Wuxian’s face. It’s a fantasy decades in the making, and Wei Wuxian wants to ignore everything, to lean into it, to open his mouth, to let Lan Zhan keep pulling him closer, until Wei Wuxian is sprawled on top of Lan Zhan, until they’re tangled together, impossible to separate. But…

Wei Wuxian pulls back. “Until what’s over?” 

Lan Wangji’s eyes are closed. It takes him a moment to open them, to smile at Wei Wuxian, sad again. “The dream.” 

Wei Wuxian feels like he’s been plunged into ice. “Lan Zhan… You’re awake.” 

“I thought so.” 

Wei Wuxian knows about dreams that seem real. He knows how they can hurt. Wei Wuxian has had plenty of them in his life, the nightmares that force him to relive his worst moments and, maybe more horrifying, the fantasies that seem so true until he wakes to the realization that they never happened, that they never can happen. Wei Wuxian has dreamed people alive before - his parents, children who he’s seen die in the field, even Mo Xuanyu in the long weeks alone in rehab. Wei Wuxian doesn’t want to be that to Lan Wangji.

Wei Wuxian squeezes Lan Wangji’s hand where they’re still connected. “How are you touching me if this is a dream?” 

Lan Wangji just raises an eyebrow, and Wei Wuxian is forced to concede the point - of course you can touch in a dream. 

“Well, then I’ll pinch you.” 

Lan Wangji is unbothered. “Go ahead.” 

Wei Wuxian pinches Lan Wangji’s forearm, trying to strike a balance between letting him feel it and not causing him too much pain. “See!” 

Lan Wangji pulls his hand away. “You always have an explanation. I can always touch you. It always hurts.” 

Wei Wuxian swallows around the tightness in his throat. “Well then, what can I do to prove it to you? What doesn’t happen?” 

Lan Wangji studies Wei Wuxian for a long time, before he finally says, sounding resigned, “You can stay. You never stay.” 

Wei Wuxian’s heart aches. He never did, did he? Dreams end, but Wei Wuxian had never stayed before that either. He doesn’t regret the work he did, but he regrets everything he’s ever done to put that pain in Lan Wangji’s words. Wei Wuxian raises his chin. “Then I’ll stay, Lan Zhan. I hope you have a comfortable couch or a spare room, because you can consider me a fixture.” 

Lan Wangji doesn’t say respond, and Wei Wuxian finds himself going on, filling the silence with nonsense as usual. “I’m very unemployed, and also legally dead. So trust me, I’ve got nothing else on my schedule.”

Lan Wangji still doesn’t say anything, and it doesn’t seem like there’s anything else Wei Wuxian can do for now. It’s not a point that can be made quickly. Wei Wuxian gestures at Lan Wangji. “Don’t let me get in the way. Feel free to do whatever you’d normally be doing. I’ll be here.” 

Lan Wangji makes a move to get up, but something occurs to Wei Wuxian. Without thinking he reaches out and grabs Lan Wangji’s wrist again. “Ah, but Lan Zhan. If you don’t believe me, does that mean you won’t let me see A-Yuan?” 

Lan Wangji’s expression is still skeptical. “How do you know that I have A-Yuan?” 

Wei Wuxian feels guilty. “Jiejie told me.” 

Lan Wangji’s expression goes so blank that Wei Wuxian can’t read it, but he has a guess at the underlying emotion. 

“I’m sorry, Lan Zhan. I went to Jiang Cheng’s first, and he insisted on dragging me over to Uncle’s and calling Jiejie over. Maybe I should have made him call you? Or maybe I should have come here first? But I will say that Jiang Cheng didn’t accuse me of being imaginary.”

Lan Wangji looks ever so slightly guilty at that, which Wei Wuxian takes as a good sign - a person doesn’t feel guilt toward their own dream, do they?

“I was so relieved when Jiejie told me that you adopted A-Yuan. I couldn’t find out anything about what happened to him and I was so worried! But being with you is best.” 

Lan Wangji studies Wei Wuxian. “You wouldn’t prefer he was with Jiang Yanli?” 

Wei Wuxian considers Lan Wangji in turn. “Jiejie would be wonderful, of course. But- You know, I was headed here. When I was- On the train. Well, not here. ” He gestures to Lan Wangji’s new apartment, the bigger one he apparently bought when he adopted A-Yuan. “But to you.” 

Lan Wangji freezes and then grits out, “Don’t.” 

Somehow Wei Wuxian is hurting him again. But Lan Wangji should know this. “It’s true. There I was, suddenly responsible for a child, and I thought...I thought you’d know what to do. I thought you’d help me. I thought- I thought you’d understand. I wanted you to meet A-Yuan.” 

Lan Wangji closes his eyes, as if he can’t bear to look at Wei Wuxian. 

“I’m sorry I’m late, Lan Zhan, but I’m glad A-Yuan got here first.” 

Lan Wangji doesn’t open his eyes for a long moment. Then he swallows and stands. “I have to get some work done. Make yourself at home.” 

And then he leaves for another room, presumably an office. After a moment, Wei Wuxian can hear him making phone calls, voice even and calm. There’s nothing quite like the cool repression of the Lan family. 

Wei Wuxian would normally be shameless about taking advantage of ‘make yourself at home’ but he feels that he’s caused Lan Wangji enough trouble for today. Or at least for this morning. Wei Wuxian confines himself to reading the titles of the books on the bookshelf, and cataloging the contents of the refrigerator and the kitchen cabinets. The most important thing Wei Wuxian finds is the childish art on the refrigerator. The sight of it makes his eyes wet and he’s glad Lan Wangji is in the other room. Wei Wuxian pulls himself together, and generously does not go into any of the bedrooms, read any of the neat pile of mail, or open the bathroom cupboard.

Wei Wuxian feels quite proud of his restraint, but he grows bored quickly. He tries to read a book, then a second book. He considers the television, but he’d grown tired of morning TV while in rehab. The phone Jiang Cheng bought him doesn’t have enough data on it to waste on surfing the internet. Wei Wuxian stretches out on the couch. He can hear Lan Wangji’s voice. Not the words, but the low, patient rumble of it, confirming and explaining something to whoever he’s speaking with. Wei Wuxian closes his eyes, letting the familiar sound wash over him. It lulls him to sleep. 

#

When Wei Wuxian wakes up, Lan Wangji is sitting in a chair across from the couch. Lan Wangji has a book in his lap, but, as Wei Wuxian blinks awake, he’s not reading it, he’s watching Wei Wuxian instead. Wei Wuxian understands the impulse, just the sight of Lan Wangji brings a smile to his face as he sits up, stretching. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep. You would think a three year coma would be enough sleep forever, but apparently it doesn’t work that way.” 

Lan Wangji doesn’t say anything, which would probably be his reaction, even he didn’t believe Wei Wuxian to be a delusion. 

Wei Wuxian checks the time and finds it’s drifting toward lunch. That gives him an idea. “Hey, Lan Zhan, let’s go out for lunch. I’ll even pay. Dreams don’t pay, right? I’ll prove that other people can see me before you start to think that you’re going crazy or something.” 

Lan Wangji flinches almost imperceptibly, but just says, “And how do legally dead people pay? Everything you had is in trust for A-Yuan.” 

Ah. “I wondered about that. Well, that’s good though…” It is good, but it doesn’t help Wei Wuxian with the question of how he’s supposed to get back to living. “Well, Jiang Cheng gave me some money, so I can definitely pay for lunch.” 

Lan Wangji doesn’t say anything, but the quality of his silence is enough to remind Wei Wuxian why he’d wanted budget help, even when he had more than the few bills in his pocket. Oh well. 

Wei Wuxian just smiles his best smile until Lan Wangji finally nods. 

“Oh good! I’ll let you pick. I don’t know the neighborhood.” 

Lan Wangji takes them to a small, local place, only a couple of blocks from his apartment. It’s still early for lunch, and the restaurant is pretty empty inside. The waitress seems bored, and so Wei Wuxian takes it upon himself to enliven her morning by flirting aimlessly with her as she hands over a menu featuring a promising number of dishes with red warnings next to them. She doesn’t seem particularly impressed.

After she leaves, Wei Wuxian notices Lan Wangji’s barely concealed annoyance, familiar from any number of past incidents. Wei Wuxian almost teases Lan Wangji about being too serious, just as he has many times in the past, when it occurs to Wei Wuxian that, if what Jiang Cheng said is true, then Lan Wangji might be jealous. Lan Wangji might have been jealous all these years. That’s- that’s something to think about. And another day it might even be a fun idea to tease Lan Wangji with, to get him riled up, jealous. But today, Wei Wuxian has hurt Lan Wangji enough, a playful poke is only cruel if it lands on a bruise. 

Instead, Wei Wuxian leans forward, turning his full attention to Lan Wangji. “Tell me about A-Yuan.” 

Lan Wangji thinks for a moment. “He’s a smart child, well behaved, friendly to everyone.” 

It’s as succinct as Wei Wuxian expects from Lan Wangji, but there’s an edge of un-Lan-like pride in Lan Wangji’s voice that makes Wei Wuxian smile. “Well of course, he has you for a father.” 

Lan Wangji shakes his head. “That’s just who he is.” 

Wei Wuxian knows that A-Yuan was already a sweet child, but he’s also sure that any child of Lan Wangji’s couldn’t help but being good. “Tell me a story about him.” 

Lan Wangji tells an adorable story about A-Yuan meeting some rabbits. Lan Wangji is, unsurprisingly, a spare storyteller, but still, there’s a light in his eyes as he talks about his son. 

Wei Wuxian is charmed, both by the story, and by Lan Wangji’s obvious love for A-Yuan. “Oh, I wish I could have seen that.” 

Wei Wuxian regrets saying it immediately, regrets pointing out his own absence, but Lan Wangji just pulls out his phone and swipes until he’s found a picture of A-Yuan, then slides his phone over to show Wei Wuxian. In the picture, A-Yuan is not that much older than he had been the last time Wei Wuxian had seen him, and he’s completely buried under a pile of rabbits, looking torn between delight and fear. 

It makes Wei Wuxian’s throat tight, sadness and affection both trying to turn to tears. He swallows them down, putting on a smile for Lan Wangji. “Do you have other pictures?” 

Lan Wangji looks slightly worried, but only nods. He flips through the photos, pushing the phone over to Wei Wuxian as he lands on a good one. Wei Wuxian quickly grows annoyed by the awkwardness of having to pass the phone back and forth across the table. He solves the problem logically, moving across, to sit in the booth next to Lan Wangji. 

Lan Wangji freezes for a moment and then continues to shuffle through the photos, offering the occasional word of commentary here and there. Wei Wuxian leans in close to him, letting their arms brush, letting Lan Wangji’s steady warmth settle into him. 

The pictures absorb Wei Wuxian. There’s a lot of them, more than he might have expected from Lan Wangji, who was never one for selfies or for stopping to photograph a sunset. Wei Wuxian is grateful for every photo though. They give Wei Wuxian a glimpse into the years he’s missed, A-Yuan growing gradually as the photos progress. 

Just like with Jiang Yanli’s collection, Wei Wuxian’s favorites are the very occasional photos that also feature Lan Wangji. There are a few taken by someone else, Wei Wuxian suspects Lan Xichen, and then, as A-Yuan grows, a couple of clumsy selfies, obviously taken by A-Yuan. Wei Wuxian lingers on one that must be recent, the two of them at a festival of some sort, A-Yuan grinning for the camera and Lan Wangji smiling that barely there smile of his. Everything about it makes Wei Wuxian’s heart ache, bittersweet with the wish that he could have been there too. He doesn’t even notice that the waitress has brought their food until Lan Wangji nudges him. 

Wei Wuxian smiles at him and hands back the phone. “He’s a cute kid.” 

“Mm.” Lan Wangji says, but yet sounds so fond that Wei Wuxian can’t help laughing. 

He doesn’t bother moving back across the table or even moving away from Lan Wangji as they eat. It means that Lan Wangji has to eat carefully to avoid elbowing Wei Wuxian, but Lan Wangji doesn’t complain. 

The food is actually spicy, a relief after two months of the bland food at rehab, and Wei Wuxian praises Lan Wangji for the choice of restaurant, although he notes that Lan Wangji has picked something significantly milder for his own meal. 

When they finish, Lan Wangji lets Wei Wuxian pay, watching the exchange with the waitress carefully, as if she might declare Wei Wuxian’s money imaginary. She is annoyed at having to deal with cash, but, as a legally dead person, Wei Wuxian doesn’t have anything else to offer her, and she eventually manages to produce the correct change. It doesn’t seem to occur to her that Wei Wuxian is a delusion. 

#

Back at the apartment, Wei Wuxian sprawls onto the sofa and reassures Lan Wangji that he can entertain himself if Lan Wangji needs to work. Lan Wangji nods, but doesn’t leave. Instead, looking uncertain, he says, “It doesn’t make sense.” 

There’s too much of Wei Wuxian’s life that doesn’t make sense lately to know which part Lan Wangji is questioning. “What?” 

Lan Wangji sits at the other end of the sofa. “Someone confusing you with Mo Xuanyu.” 

Wei Wuxian feels a thrill of excitement. If Lan Wangji is thinking seriously about the details of his story, maybe Lan Wangji is considering accepting the reality of Wei Wuxian. “It’s a little strange, but you know how much Mo Xuanyu and I resembled each other.” 

Lan Wangji just looks at Wei Wuxian, eyebrows tilted in confusion. 

Wei Wuxian is puzzled in return. “Lan Wangji, you had to have noticed. You saw us together plenty of times!” 

Lan Wangji’s eyebrow furrow deepens enough that Wei Wuxian thinks even a stranger might be able to see that he’s confused. “You didn’t look alike.” 

Wei Wuxian feels like maybe he’s the one who’s dreaming after all - one of those loopy dreams where up is down. “Lan Zhan, people were always asking us if we were twins. Even on the train, just before- Even then, the ticket lady thought we were twins.” 

Lan Wangji still looks dubious. 

Wei Wuxian stares at him in disbelief, but finally has to shrug. “I don’t know what to tell you. You can ask Jiang Cheng.” Wei Wuxian swallows the story of how they’d once made a drunk Jiang Cheng think he was seeing double. It’s funny, but perhaps a bit off topic. Wei Wuxian tilts his head at Lan Wangji instead. “You seriously never noticed?” 

Lan Wangji is too proper to shrug, but something about the way he straightens his shoulders gives the impression of returning the gesture. “Wei Ying is Wei Ying.” 

That simple statement makes Wei Wuxian’s heart ache again. He changes the topic. “Of course, if Mo Xuanyu’s family weren’t terrible, the whole thing might have been figured out sooner. Can you believe none of them came to visit him? Surely, even they must have been able to recognize that I wasn’t Mo Xuanyu if they’d visited. They didn’t even come after I woke up!”

Wei Wuxian has miscalculated, thinking about the neglect of Mo Xuanyu’s family is only making his heart hurt more. Lan Wangji seems to notice. “You must be mourning him.” 

Wei Wuxian looks away. “I mean, until then, I hadn’t seen him since college, but he was a friend. And he adored A-Yuan. He was taking care of A-Yuan in his last moments and I’ll never get to thank him for that.”

Lan Wangji’s already proper posture goes even straighter, drawing Wei Wuxian’s gaze back to him. Lan Wangji says, slowly, carefully, “They said the reason that A-Yuan was so unhurt was that you- that Mo Xuanyu had protected A-Yuan with his body. I owe him a good deal.” 

Wei Wuxian has to look away again, pushing back the tears that want to fall, before he can manage to say, “I do too.” 

There’s a silence and then Lan Wangji says, “You can come with me. To pick up A-Yuan from school.” 

Wei Wuxian’s heart stutters. “Really? And- I mean, you don’t have to tell him who I am. I can just be a friend.” 

Lan Wangji gives him a look that implies that Wei Wuxian is an idiot and Wei Wuxian’s heart lifts again. “Oh, really? Thank you, Lan Zhan.” 

Lan Wangji nods. He seems to be sorting through his words, so Wei Wuxian waits quietly even though he’s suddenly filled with effervescent energy. Finally, Lan Wangji says, “Will you stay? Tonight?”

Wei Wuxian laughs. “Lan Zhan, I’ll stay as long as you want.” 

Lan Wangji takes a sharp breath. “Don’t.” 

“Don’t what?” 

“Say things you don’t mean.” 

That hurts, but of course Lan Wangji can’t believe Wei Wuxian - Wei Wuxian has never done anything to earn Lan Wangji’s trust on this. Wei Wuxian will just have to prove himself through his actions. “I’ll stay tonight, Lan Zhan.” 

Lan Wangji nods once and disappears back into his office. 

#

Wei Wuxian calls Jiang Cheng to announce that he will be staying with Lan Wangji. Jiang Cheng doesn’t even pretend to be surprised. Then Wei Wuxian calls Jiang Yanli and Uncle Jiang, not because he has any particular news to share, but because he’s missed them, and because Lan Wangji’s reaction makes him wonder if they’ve been doubting too - doubting the reality of his reappearance, or doubting their own minds. There’s no good way to ask, so Wei Wuxian just fills the calls with happy chatter until he can hear the smile in their voices. 

Afterward, he tries again to read the book he’s borrowed, but he still can’t focus on it. The minutes seem to crawl by until finally Lan Wangji says it’s time to go. 

On the short drive Lan Wangji is quiet. Of course. Normally Wei Wuxian would fill the silence, but his mind is looping around and around the upcoming meeting. It’s been nearly four years since they’ve seen each other and A-Yuan had only been three then. There’s no way he remembers Wei Wuxian. The odds of him remembering anything from that age are low and he’d only spent two months with Wei Wuxian. Two months that had been book-ended by trauma. If anything, it’s probably best if A-Yuan doesn’t remember Wei Wuxian. 

And Wei Wuxian doesn’t need A-Yuan to remember him. He just wants to see that A-Yuan is happy and that he’s healthy. Wei Wuxian knows it already intellectually, he’s seen the pictures, and heard the warmth in Lan Wangji’s voice when he talks about his son, but some irrational part of Wei Wuxian still wants to see A-Yuan in person. To confirm with his own eyes what he already knows to be true. 

When they arrive at the school, it’s already starting to swarm with cars, kids, and parents. Lan Wangji turns his car away from the crowd, pulling in at a little park across the street. “Wait here. I’ll try to explain first.” 

Wei Wuxian waits on one of the park’s benches. It’s a beautiful day. Crisp and clear, the sky endlessly blue, without any clouds. It’s early enough in the year that the trees still have green leaves, although some yellow ones are starting to appear. The sound of children, the din of their laughter, shrieks and shouts, is just distant enough to make it only a background for the chirp of a bird in the trees. Wei Wuxian tries to concentrate on all of this, on all the things he just missed never experiencing again, but his eyes keep returning to the crowd in front of the school, looking for Lan Wangji’s tall, straight figure. 

Finally, finally, Wei Wuxian spots him. Lan Wangji’s attention is on the smaller figure next to him. The two of them are talking seriously, and Wei Wuxian wonders how Lan Wangji is explaining this. Does Lan Wangji have to start by explaining who Wei Wuxian even is? The two of them draw close enough for Wei Wuxian to see how well A-Yuan has grown. Back then, A-Yuan had been a little small for his age according to Wen Qing, but now he looks like any other seven year old to Wei Wuxian. Well, no. He looks like the best kid to Wei Wuxian. There’s something of Lan Wangji in the upright way A-Yuan holds himself, in the focused way he’s listening to Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian had often teased Lan Wangji for his properness, his seriousness, but now, it only warms Wei Wuxian to see those traits being passed along to his son. Wei Wuxian has no doubt that Lan Wangji is also sharing his kindness, his thoughtfulness, his essential goodness. Wei Wuxian couldn’t want more for the child that was almost his own son. 

They draw closer, and Lan Wangji looks up, spotting Wei Wuxian. A-Yuan follows the direction of his father’s gaze and stops in his tracks. His shock and the slight consternation on Lan Wangji’s face is enough to make Wei Wuxian suspect that Lan Wangji hadn’t quite gotten to the identity of their guest, and to also suspect that, inexplicably, A-Yuan recognizes Wei Wuxian. 

This theory is proven correct in the next second when A-Yuan drops his backpack and runs a few steps toward Wei Wuxian. “Papa?” 

Wei Wuxian’s heart nearly stops. Oh. Oh, Lan Zhan. 

For that must be Lan Wangji. Even when Wei Wuxian had decided to adopt A-Yuan, he’d never told A-Yuan to call him father. Wen Qing had teased him about it, saying Wei Wuxian let A-Yuan call him brother because he didn’t want to admit that he was old enough to be a father. But really, as an orphan himself, Wei Wuxian knew such things could be tricky, and A-Yuan’s parents had only just died. Wei Wuxian thought they’d have time to work it out. Of course, in the end, they didn’t have time, they had no time at all. But Lan Wangji… Lan Wangji has carefully carved out this role for Wei Wuxian in his son’s life, even when Wei Wuxian was apparently dead and buried. 

Wei Wuxian can only say, “A-Yuan.” 

A-Yuan turns back to his father, who nods seriously at him. With that assurance, A-Yuan runs the rest of the way up to Wei Wuxian. “Papa, you’re back.” 

Whatever Lan Wangji told A-Yuan must have been enough that there are no questions about the how. There’s only A-Yuan’s smile. There’s only A-Yuan, the first person uncomplicatedly happy to see Wei Wuxian. 

Wei Wuxian smiles through the tears trying to spill, wanting to return that uncomplicated delight. “I am. A-Yuan you’ve gotten so big!” 

A-Yuan looks proud, but exasperated in the way children always are at being told they’ve grown. Then, proving that he’s not quite a mini-Lan Wangji, A-Yuan throws himself at Wei Wuxian, wrapping Wei Wuxian in a hug. 

Wei Wuxian hugs A-Yuan back, trying to convey all his worry and relief, all the wishes he’s had for A-Yuan, all the regret he has for missing so much. Wei Wuxian pats A-Yuan’s hair and rejoices in being able to hold A-Yuan, strong and whole after everything. 

A-Yuan pulls away eventually. No kid wants to hug a parent forever, not even a parent that has mysteriously come back from the dead. Lan Wangji has collected A-Yuan’s backpack and sat next to them on the bench. To Wei Wuxian’s surprise, A-Yuan gives Wei Wuxian another smile, then jumps a step over to give Lan Wangji a hug too. Lan Wangji hugs A-Yuan back without any awkwardness. 

Hugging is clearly not remarkable between them, which, in of itself, is remarkable. Wei Wuxian has known Lan Wangji since they were practically kids themselves, and Wei Wuxian knows that hugs were nearly non-existent in young Lan Wangji’s life after his mother died. Of course Lan Wangji is a good father. Of course. But it’s something else to know that A-Yuan is growing up with all the easy physical affection a child could need. At A-Yuan’s age, Wei Wuxian had been bouncing from one foster home to the next. At that age, Wei Wuxian had gotten no more hugs than Lan Wangji, and he remembers the emptiness of it. He should have known that Lan Wangji would never let that happen to his son, no matter his own history. 

The hug A-Yuan gives Lan Wangji is shorter, but afterward he lingers in Lan Wangji’s space, leaning against Lan Wangji’s legs as he turns to Wei Wuxian with a serious expression. “If you’re back, does that mean you’re going to take me away from Dad?” 

Wei Wuxian feels that like a blow to the chest. He makes himself draw breath past the pain of it, so he can say firmly, seriously, “No. No, A-Yuan. I would never take you away from your Dad.” 

Wei Wuxian is even more shocked to see a hint of relief on Lan Wangji’s face, quickly wiped away when he sees Wei Wuxian looking. Wei Wuxian is ashamed that he hadn’t offered this reassurance earlier, but it had never occurred to him that Lan Wangji could imagine a world where Wei Wuxian wouldn’t consider him to be A-Yuan’s dad! Wei Wuxian is the one who disappeared. 

Lan Wangji turns to A-Yuan. “A-Yuan can have both of us.” 

A-Yuan seems excited by that idea. “Like A-Fang! She has two dads.” 

Wei Wuxian makes himself look away from Lan Wangji’s careful non-reaction to that. “There you go! Two dads is probably twice the fun.” 

A-Yuan looks dubious. “Twice the rules?” 

Lan Wangji catches Wei Wuxian’s gaze, his expression wry, and Wei Wuxian is suddenly laughing. Lan Wangji only says, “I don’t think you’ll need to worry about that.” 

That brightens A-Yuan up, and he looks at Wei Wuxian with more appreciation. A-Yuan reaches out to tug on Lan Wangji’s hand. “Let’s take him home. I want to show him my room!” 

“Mm,” Lan Wangji agrees, standing. 

A-Yuan beams at him, and then turns his bright smile on Wei Wuxian, grabbing his hand too. “Come on!” 

Wei Wuxian can only laugh some more, tugged along with Lan Wangji by their son. It’s almost too wonderful. If Wei Wuxian had to give up three years to have this, then it might have been worth it.

#

A-Yuan talks considerably more than his father, although, compared to Wei Wuxian at that age, he’s very polite. In response to the questions Wei Wuxian throws at him, A-Yuan is perfectly willing to expound on his day at school, his feelings on school more generally, and on his best friend Lan Jingyi. Additionally, unprompted by Wei Wuxian, A-Yuan details the reasons why he thinks he should be allowed to get a pet rabbit, preferably two. 

A warning look from Lan Wangji suggests this is a delicate topic. Unfortunately for Lan Wangji, Wei Wuxian is not particularly good at delicate. He immediately launches into the story of the abandoned rabbit Lan Wangji had nursed back to health in his dorm room in college, quite against the rules. The rabbit had turned out to be pregnant and, much to the dismay of Lan Wangji’s roommate, their little dorm room became absolutely overrun with baby rabbits. Wei Wuxian laughs as he describes how Lan Wangji’s roommate had found two in his shoes. “Bunny slippers!” 

A-Yuan is fascinated by this story. “Did you get in trouble?” 

Wei Wuxian answers for Lan Wangji, who is driving with the resigned air of someone who knew better, but had hoped for more. Poor A-Yuan, with no one here to tell him about his father’s youthful hijinks! Good thing Wei Wuxian is here now. “No, I helped him catch them all, and we found a shelter that made sure they all went to good homes.” See! The story even has a nice ending. 

When they get back to the apartment, Lan Wangji insists that A-Yuan finish his homework before any grand tours, and A-Yuan, in turn, insists that Wei Wuxian help him with his schoolwork. 

A-Yuan and Wei Wuxian sit together at the kitchen table, A-Yuan working through his small bit of homework, not seeming to need any actual assistance. Nearby, Lan Wangji moves efficiently through the kitchen, making dinner. Lan Wangji glances over every so often at A-Yuan, checking on him. It’s all so homey in a way that Wei Wuxian hadn’t ever really thought he’d experience, but now that he has he thinks he might always long for. 

Eventually, A-Yuan does ask Wei Wuxian for help, seeking his advice on a short writing assignment. “Dad says you’re a really good writer. He told me I can read your articles when I’m older.” 

Lan Wangji is too focused on the vegetables he’s chopping to see Wei Wuxian’s surprise. Wei Wuxian has never really considered it, but of course his articles are too filled with tragedy and violence for a child to read. But Wei Wuxian could fix it now. Like Lan Wangji had once told him, Wei Wuxian could write about anything. “Well, maybe soon I’ll write something you can read before you get older.” 

The steady sound of Lan Wangji’s knife falters. A-Yuan smiles at Wei Wuxian as he launches into explaining the assignment. 

A-Yuan finishes his work before dinner is ready, but he lingers in the kitchen, offering to help Lan Wangji with preparing dinner. Lan Wangji sets A-Yuan up with little tasks - it’s clearly a familiar ritual for both of them. A-Yuan asks why Wei Wuxian doesn’t help, and Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji share a glance, both clearly remembering Wei Wuxian’s various cooking disasters. Wei Wuxian laughs and tells the best ones until A-Yuan is laughing too. Lan Wangji doesn’t laugh, but he almost smiles. 

Dinner is delicious. Lan Wangji has always been a better cook than Wei Wuxian (not that it’s a high bar to clear), but he’s improved even more since the last time he cooked for Wei Wuxian. Best of all, Lan Wangji presents Wei Wuxian with his own heavily spiced portion and a bottle of chili oil. Wei Wuxian is loud in his praise and A-Yuan insists on tasting it. A-Yuan manages to swallow the bite he took, but he politely refuses Wei Wuxian’s generous offers to share more. 

After dinner, A-Yuan gives Wei Wuxian a tour, focused mostly on his room, which is decorated with all the dinosaurs and plush rabbits a child could want. A-Yuan shows Wei Wuxian his favorite books, his best art, and a few prize rocks. The room is perfect, the kind of room that Wei Wuxian might have been jealous of as a child, even after he was adopted by the Jiangs. There’s even a little desk, child-sized and adorable, but what strikes Wei Wuxian most is the framed photographs on top of the desk. 

A-Yuan finds him looking. “Oh that’s you, Papa.” 

And so it is. When Wei Wuxian had started being published in the bigger papers, they’d insisted that he have better headshots then the selfies he’d been getting away with before. One of the papers had paid for a professional photographer to take some. Wei Wuxian had used those photos for his whole career, rotating between three or so serious shots, but he’d emailed some of the outtakes to Lan Wangji, joking that he wished he could use them instead. Lan Wangji had apparently kept them, because that’s the photo he’s given A-Yuan, Wei Wuxian laughing when he was supposed to be looking serious and professional. 

The frame has two sides, and on the other side is a couple. The photo a bit grainy and washed out, but they look happy. From the clothes and their careful pose, Wei Wuxian guesses it’s a wedding photo. He doesn’t recognize them exactly, but he recognizes A-Yuan’s laughing eyes in the woman, and something about the shape of the chin in the man. “Is that your biological parents?” 

A-Yuan nods seriously. “Yes.” 

Wei Wuxian would have given anything for a picture of his parents as a kid. Hell, he’d still give a lot. “They look nice.” 

“Yeah.” A-Yuan touches the frame reverently. “Dad couldn’t find many pictures of them, but this is my favorite.” 

Wei Wuxian can’t find the right thing to say, so he just pulls A-Yuan into a one armed hug, which A-Yuan tolerates for a second before remembering something new he wants to show Wei Wuxian. 

A-Yuan has an early bedtime, which doesn’t surprise Wei Wuxian, some things don’t change. A-Yuan doesn’t seem to mind, but he insists that they both read him a story first, clearly already working the two dads angle. Neither of them have the heart to dispute it, and so he gets his two stories. He falls asleep a third of the way into the second one, but Lan Wangji reads to the end anyway. 

It might be absurdly early, but Wei Wuxian is already tired. After the ups and downs of the last two days Lan Wangji’s bedtime seems reasonable for the first time ever. Lan Wangji can obviously tell how tired Wei Wuxian is. He shows Wei Wuxian the spare room, and gives him a handful of towels and sleep clothes. 

Wei Wuxian showers, thankful for the Mo family funded toiletries that spare him from having to decide whether it would be better to let his hair smell like Lan Wangji (distracting) or A-Yuan’s child-friendly shampoo with cartoon characters on the bottle. Afterward, Wei Wuxian is too tired to do anything other than say goodnight to Lan Wangji and collapse into bed. He falls asleep right away, not even able to work up the energy to feel anything about wearing Lan Wangji’s clothes. 

#

Something wakes Wei Wuxian later. He’s not sure what and he’s also not sure what time it is, but the apartment is still and dark. He sits up, and then sees, in the faint street light filtering in from outside, that Lan Wangji is hovering in his doorway. “Lan Zhan, what’s wrong?” 

“It’s- Sorry, I shouldn’t-” 

The fact that Lan Wangji is tripping over his words would be enough to make Wei Wuxian worry, even if it wasn’t the middle of the night. It’s not A-Yuan, Lan Wangji wouldn’t be hesitating if something were wrong with A-Yuan. It must be about Lan Wangji himself. 

Wei Wuxian holds his hand out. “Lan Zhan, come here. What is it?” 

Lan Wangji hesitates, but moves into the room. Closer, the faint light shows an expression that, on anyone else might be considered mildly perturbed, but on Lan Wangji can only be described as distressed. He hovers at the side of the bed. Wei Wuxian leans forward to grab his hand, pulling until Lan Wangji sits down on the edge of the mattress. 

“Tell me, Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian doesn’t let go of Lan Wangji’s hand, hoping the connection will help. 

Lan Wangji looks at Wei Wuxian, and then away, and then immediately back again, as if he can’t bring himself to look away for more than a second. “If I go to sleep, will you still be here when I wake?” 

And Wei Wuxian understands. Some part of Lan Wangji still thinks this is a dream. Thinks that he’ll wake up and Wei Wuxian will be dead, long gone and never to return. Wei Wuxian knows how, in the night when everyone else is asleep, the darkest ideas seem the most real. 

Wei Wuxian squeezes Lan Wangji’s hand. “I will, Lan Zhan, I promise. And the day after, and the one after that.” 

Lan Wangji just shakes his head, clearly not convinced. 

If Lan Wangji needs Wei Wuxian to reassure him all night, Wei Wuxian will, but Wei Wuxian is still exhausted and Lan Wangji needs his sleep too. Wei Wuxian lays back into the bed and tugs on Lan Wangji’s hand, indicating he should follow. “Stay here tonight, Lan Zhan.” 

Lan Wangji freezes, but Wei Wuxian just arranges himself against the pillows and pulls Lan Wangji’s hand up to rest over his heart. Wei Wuxian isn’t sure if Lan Wangji can feel his heartbeat that way, but at least Lan Wangji should be able to feel his chest rising and falling as he breathes, a constant proof of life.

Lan Wangji is still frozen. Wei Wuxian covers Lan Wangji’s hand with his own, trapping it against his chest and repeats, “Stay.” 

Lan Wangji breaks out of his frozen pose, sliding under the covers a careful distance from Wei Wuxian. They watch each other in the near dark, Lan Wangji still wide awake, and still with that horrible hurt on his face. After a few minutes he says, “I’m sorry.” 

Wei Wuxian, who had been sleepily thinking about how nice it was to have Lan Zhan so close, and how much closer he wants to be, blinks. “You don’t need to apologize to me, Lan Zhan.” 

Lan Wangji takes a shaky breath, fingers curling against Wei Wuxian’s chest. 

That single point of contact isn’t enough for Wei Wuxian and he doesn’t think it’s enough for Lan Wangji either. Wei Wuxian inches his way nearer to Lan Wangji. “Closer, Lan Zhan.” 

Lan Wangji’s breath catches, but he does move closer and together they move nearer, until Wei Wuxian can press into Lan Wangji’s side, turning until he’s half draped over Lan Wangji, arm flung over his chest. Lan Wangji’s hand hovers for a moment, before coming to rest on top of Wei Wuxian’s, holding Wei Wuxian’s hand, holding Wei Wuxian here. 

Wei Wuxian can already feel himself falling asleep against Lan Wangji’s shoulder, but he asks, just in case, “Is this okay, Lan Zhan?”

“Mm,” is all Lan Wangji says, but Wei Wuxian can feel Lan Wangji relaxing under him. 

“Good. Good night, Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian says, tiredness and the way he’s pressed against Lan Wangji’s strong shoulder slurring his words. 

A deep, comfortable sleep claims him. 

#

Wei Wuxian wakes slowly. At first he doesn’t quite know where he is. He just knows that it’s somewhere warm and that it’s somewhere he unquestionably belongs. When he opens his eyes, he’s treated to the sight of Lan Wangji’s sleeping face. They’ve moved in the night so they’re no longer draped on one another, but curled toward each other. Between them, their hands are still tangled together. 

Lan Wangji is so beautiful like this. Well, Lan Wangji is beautiful always, but there’s a relaxed peace to his sleeping face that Wei Wuxian has never noticed before. Maybe that’s because Wei Wuxian has never woken up with Lan Wangji before. Lan Wangji has always been a relentlessly early riser and Wei Wuxian less so. Wei Wuxian had seen Lan Wangji fall asleep often enough in college, but perhaps this sweet contentment is reserved for mornings. Maybe now this sight is something that Wei Wuxian can see again. 

Wei Wuxian is in love with Lan Wangji. 

The idea doesn’t occur to Wei Wuxian suddenly. It doesn’t take him by surprise. In the space of one lazy morning blink, as he smiles at Lan Wangji’s sleeping face, the thought surfaces, already formed, as if Wei Wuxian had always known. 

Wei Wuxian has nursed a crush on Lan Wangji since they first met. Lan Wangji had been stunning, even then, when he should have been a gangly teenager like the rest of them. Wei Wuxian had hardly been the only person in their high school who wanted to be close to Lan Wangji, who had dreamed of touching that thick hair and perfect face. But Wei Wuxian had also been the only one that Lan Wangji had actually let near him, and then they’d been friends. Wei Wuxian had tried to put Lan Wangji’s unearthly beauty to the side, to focus on being a good friend. 

It was easy to be friends with Lan Wangji. Under that cold exterior, Lan Wangji was one of the best people Wei Wuxian had ever met. Is still one of the best people Wei Wuxian has ever met, even after traveling the world. Wei Wuxian had loved him of course. Friends love each other, and Lan Wangji was Wei Wuxian’s best friend, no matter how much distance separated them. And yes, Wei Wuxian had never truly been able to forget his attraction to Lan Wangji. Yes, he’d let himself fantasize sometimes that Lan Wangji could be attracted to him too. Yes, those fantasies had sometimes verged on the romantic. But. But Wei Wuxian has never let himself seriously think about being in love with Lan Wangji. He’s always known that Lan Wangji is too good for him. And if there had ever been a chance, then Wei Wuxian had surely lost it when he ran away from everything. If there ever had been a chance, Wei Wuxian had pushed it a little bit further away each of the thirteen years he hadn’t returned. 

But if what Jiang Cheng says is true… Wei Wuxian still hasn’t let himself think about it too closely, hasn’t let himself hope or want. But now, looking at Lan Wangji’s sleeping face, seeing his trust in Wei Wuxian... Wei Wuxian is in love with Lan Wangji. He probably has been in love with Lan Wangji for most of their lives. If Lan Wangji doesn’t love him in the same way it’s going to break his heart. But that’s fine. Wei Wuxian won’t let a broken heart chase him away. He’ll still be a friend to Lan Wangji and a father to A-Yuan. That will have to be enough, because Wei Wuxian is done running and he’s done hurting the people he loves. 

Wei Wuxian lays still, hand warm in Lan Wangji’s, letting this new knowledge, this new recognition of what had been there all along, settle into his heart. Wei Wuxian drinks in the details of Lan Wangji’s face, the soft part of his lips, the way his dark lashes fan over his cheeks, the fall of his hair across his forehead. Wei Wuxian resists the urge to smooth that hair, to lean in and kiss those lax lips. That isn’t his right. 

Into this stillness comes the sound of small footsteps. Wei Wuxian lifts himself up enough to peer over Lan Wangji’s shoulder, careful not to disturb him. A-Yuan looks back at Wei Wuxian from the other side of Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian suffers a brief moment of panic, thinking that A-Yuan needs to be at school, but then remembers it’s Saturday. 

It’s Saturday and A-Yuan is already awake! He has clearly been raised with Lan Wangji’s ideas about mornings. A-Yuan’s expression is expectant. Wei Wuxian tries to think, what key parenting step has he missed already? 

“Good morning,” Wei Wuxian tries - whispering, in an effort not to wake Lan Wangji.

“Good morning,” A-Yuan whispers back, following Wei Wuxian’s lead. And then, “It’s breakfast time.” 

Ah. 

A-Yuan’s eyes dart to Lan Wangji, A-Yuan clearly has his preference as to who provides breakfast, but he’s as polite about it as ever. 

Wei Wuxian has no intention of waking Lan Wangji. Who knows when Lan Wangji had finally fallen asleep last night. If he’s slept through his usual waking time, it’s because he needs it. “Your dad was up late. I’ll make breakfast.” 

A-Yuan looks deeply skeptical, as well he should after the stories he’d heard last night about Wei Wuxian’s cooking abilities. “But it’s Saturday.” 

Wei Wuxian doesn’t know what that means, but tries a new tack. “Do you help your Dad cook breakfast?” 

A-Yuan nods. 

Wei Wuxian smiles. “Then you can help me!” 

A-Yuan considers this, eyes darting to Lan Wangji’s sleeping form. Finally, a look of determination takes over his face, and he nods again. 

There’s so much of Lan Wangji in the gesture, in A-Yuan’s silent resolve to do what he’s decided is right, even if it means a sacrifice for himself. Wei Wuxian’s smile turns hopelessly fond. “Thank you.” 

Wei Wuxian can’t just leave Lan Wangji there by himself though. Not after Lan Wangji’s worries last night. “A-Yuan, can you help me with another thing? Do you guys have post-it notes and a pen? I want to leave a note for your Dad.” 

A-Yuan looks skeptical at that. Maybe it’s silly when they’ll only be two rooms away, but Wei Wuxian is determined. He smiles expectantly until A-Yuan slips away, returning with a pen and a pad of sticky notes in a bright, unmissable lime green. “Thank you, A-Yuan. This is perfect.” 

Wei Wuxian carefully extracts his hand from Lan Wangji’s and writes: 

Lan Zhan, 

I didn’t disappear. I’m helping A-Yuan make breakfast. You look cute when you sleep! 

Wei Ying

Wei Wuxian sticks the note on the palm of Lan Wangji’s hand, where his own hand had been resting a moment ago. Lan Wangji doesn’t even twitch, obviously sleeping deeply. 

Wei Wuxian looks at the scene skeptically - what if Lan Wangji moves later and he loses the note? Wei Wuxian quickly writes another note, the same except for the last line ( You make a good pillow! ) and sticks it to his own empty pillow. Then, frowning, he writes two more ( I slept well with you! and I missed you. ), sticking one in Lan Wangji’s other hand, and one to the center of his chest. 

Wei Wuxian makes himself stop there. He feels like he could cover Lan Wangji in notes and it would never be enough, because what he really wants to say in each one is, I love you, I love you, I love you.

A-Yuan has disappeared at some point in this note writing process. Wei Wuxian hastily goes to find him, a little worried that he’ll be near a hot stove. Instead, Wei Wuxian finds A-Yuan sorting through a box of recipes, some handwritten, others printed out from the internet. 

When Wei Wuxian tells A-Yuan to be careful of the stove A-Yuan looks like he might roll his eyes if he were less polite. “Of course I’m not allowed to use the stove without an adult.” A-Yuan assesses Wei Wuxian as if deciding if Wei Wuxian counts as an adult or not, which is probably fair. 

He must decide in Wei Wuxian’s favor, because he hands Wei Wuxian one of the recipes. “Saturdays are pancake days.” 

Wei Wuxian looks at the recipe, not sure how to proceed, but before true panic can set in, he sees that A-Yuan is already gathering the ingredients. Thank goodness, because Wei Wuxian is not even sure what the difference between baking powder and baking soda is, but A-Yuan seems confident. 

A-Yuan mostly leaves Wei Wuxian in charge of reaching things on high shelves while A-Yuan makes the batter. Wei Wuxian is pretty sure that when Lan Wangji is there the process is less messy. Somehow he and A-Yuan have both been liberally dusted in flour, not to mention the counters and floor, but eventually a batter is produced. Wei Wuxian doesn’t know what pancake batter should look like, but A-Yuan is satisfied and Wei Wuxian choses to trust in his expertise. 

Unfortunately, this means that Wei Wuxian actually has to cook them now. He makes A-Yuan stand far enough away to be out of splatter range if something should go really wrong, and gives it his best effort. The first pancake ends up horribly burned, the second one is nicely browned on the outside, but leaking raw batter from the middle, the third the same. The fourth...seems edible. Wei Wuxian displays it for A-Yuan’s inspection, and A-Yuan generously approves it enough to be put on a plate. From there they proceed with slightly more success, although somehow all of the pancakes, no matter how carefully poured, end up in strange irregular shapes. 

As the stack of pancakes grows, A-Yuan looks very proud of their accomplishment. Wei Wuxian is mostly proud of not disappointing A-Yuan in their first unsupervised time together.

Wei Wuxian is just cooking the last little bit of batter which has produced an absurdly small pancake that, for some reason, he and A-Yuan both find hilarious. They’re laughing together when movement draws Wei Wuxian’s gaze past A-Yuan. Lan Wangji is there, looking at the both of them softly. He’s clearly just woken, hair still uneven from the pillow, and he’s holding Wei Wuxian’s notes in one hand, stuck together in a little, bright green stack.

“Lan Zhan! We’ve cooked!” 

Lan Wangji smiles a little. “I see that. Good morning.” 

A-Yuan says, “Good morning. Will you try the pancakes?” 

“Of course,” Lan Wangji says gravely. “I’ll be there in a moment.” 

When he comes back, he’s fixed his hair and the notes are gone, but he hasn’t bothered to change out of his sleep clothes. It thrills Wei Wuxian to see Lan Wangji like this, casual at home, for Wei Wuxian to be a part of Lan Wangji’s life in this way. 

Wei Wuxian explains that A-Yuan was the true chef, and he a mere assistant. Lan Wangji nods, and properly directs his praise to his son, who lights up. 

A-Yuan has done a good job, the pancakes are, overall, fluffy and delicious. Wei Wuxian stealthily gives himself the crunchier ones, making sure the best examples go to A-Yuan and Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji spots Wei Wuxian doing this and gives Wei Wuxian one of his small smiles. Caught, Wei Wuxian can only smile back helplessly. 

After they finish eating, Lan Wangji directs clean-up of the kitchen. He doesn’t say anything about the mess they’ve made, but Wei Wuxian can read the amusement lurking in his face. Ah well. 

Wei Wuxian is about to ask what they should do today, when Lan Wangji’s phone rings. Lan Wangji looks annoyed, but says, “Work,” and goes to his office to take the call. 

“On a Saturday?” Wei Wuxian calls after him. Wei Wuxian turns to A-Yuan who seems mildly shocked at his grumbling. Oh well, the boy has to learn to stand up for himself. A person can’t always be polite. Wei Wuxian replaces his pout with a smile. “What should we do while your father is busy?” 

A-Yuan says, “I don’t think he’ll be too long.” 

Wei Wuxian is about to protest that they can entertain themselves anyway, when there’s a knock at the front door, and then, without pause, it opens. 

It startles Wei Wuxian, and he automatically steps in front of A-Yuan, but it’s only Lan Xichen. Just as Wei Wuxian’s heart rate is considering leaving the panicked zone, Lan Xichen’s expression makes it clear that Lan Wangji has not had the chance to mention anything about Wei Wuxian’s miraculous resurrection. Oops. 

In fact, Lan Xichen looks horrified at Wei Wuxian’s presence. “W-Who?” 

Wei Wuxian is puzzled, he and Lan Xichen had never been that close, but he’s known Lan Wangji’s brother for as long as he’s known Lan Wangji. “Lan Xichen, don’t you remember me?” 

The horror is quickly replaced by confusion. “Wei Wuxian?” 

Who else could Wei Wuxian be? Had Lan Xichen really thought that his brother had found some look-alike and brought them home to his son? Lan Wangji would never do such a thing! Besides, the situation with Mo Xuanyu proves that Lan Wangji couldn’t spot a look-alike even if he met one. “That’s me.” 

Lan Xichen’s confusion is turning to anger. “Wei Wuxian. How could you? What possible excuse could you have for the pain you’ve caused Wangji?” 

Lan Xichen is as correct as ever, straight to the heart of the matter. Wei Wuxian will accept his anger, but first Wei Wuxian turns to A-Yuan who is watching them both with wide eyes from behind Wei Wuxian. “A-Yuan, you should go see your father. Your uncle and I need to talk.” 

Lan Xichen notices A-Yuan behind Wei Wuxian for the first time. “A-Yuan…” 

A-Yuan doesn’t respond to his uncle, uncharacteristically impolite, but A-Yuan has probably never seen smiling Lan Xichen angry in his life. Instead, A-Yuan gives them both a wide-eyed glance and heads toward his father’s office, but before he can make it out of the room, Lan Wangji is already there. Lan Wangji is still in his sleep clothes, he should look rumpled and approachable, but something about his posture makes him intimidating, a force to be reckoned with. 

A-Yuan plasters himself to Lan Wangji’s side, not intimidated at all. Lan Wangji runs a soothing hand through A-Yuan’s hair, but keeps his eyes on Lan Xichen. 

“Brother, I forgot you were visiting with A-Yuan today. I apologize, we’re not quite ready.” There’s nothing apologetic about his tone toward his brother, but his voice softens as he says, “A-Yuan, you better go get ready. Wei Wuxian, will you help A-Yuan make sure he has everything he needs?” 

This is obviously a ploy to get A-Yuan and Wei Wuxian out of the situation, because Wei Wuxian has absolutely no idea what A-Yuan will need, but he plays along. “Of course.” 

A-Yuan is still plastered to Lan Wangji’s side, eyeing the tense line of Lan Xichen’s jaw, so Wei Wuxian holds a hand out to him. He’s warmed when A-Yuan takes it without hesitation, detaching himself from his father to follow Wei Wuxian to his room. 

A-Yuan doesn’t need any help at all from Wei Wuxian to get himself ready, so instead Wei Wuxian focuses on coaxing A-Yuan to talk about his excitement for the trip to the aquarium today and about the many other interesting places he’s gone with his uncle before. Wei Wuxian listens to A-Yuan’s bright chatter, and doesn’t think about how important Lan Xichen is to both Lan Wangji and A-Yuan, or how Wei Wuxian can’t be responsible for a rift in those relationships. 

When A-Yuan has himself neatly dressed, clearly ready to go, he delays, drawing out the debate on which sweater he should bring. Finally he asks, “Papa, why was Uncle so angry?” 

Wei Wuxian, with confidence he doesn’t feel, says, “He was just confused. I’m sure your dad cleared everything up.” 

A-Yuan nods, but still takes Wei Wuxian’s hand again as they walk back out. Wei Wuxian can feel A-Yuan’s hand relax in his, when they see that Lan Xichen’s usual pleasant calm has returned. 

Lan Xichen smiles at Wei Wuxian. “Wei Wuxian, I want to apologize. Wangji has explained the situation to me. That must have been difficult.” 

Wei Wuxian sees the way Lan Xichen’s eyes dart to A-Yuan’s little hand in his. Wei Wuxian wonders if this pretty apology would be different if they were alone, unobserved by Lan Xichen’s nephew, and his stony-faced brother, but Wei Wuxian smiles back brightly. “I’m just happy to be here now. It’s good to see you again.” 

Lan Xichen continues to smile. “And you, of course.” 

Wei Wuxian doesn’t believe there’s any ‘of course’ to it, but Lan Wangji and Lan Xichen turn to the issue of making sure that A-Yuan is ready for their trip. When they agree that A-Yuan is sufficiently prepared, Lan Wangji gives A-Yuan a hug goodbye.

A-Yuan comes over to Wei Wuxian, so Wei Wuxian does the same, and feels his heart leap when A-Yuan says, “I’ll see you tonight, Papa.” 

Wei Wuxian brushes A-Yuan’s hair back from his forehead and looks at him seriously. “I’ll be here.” 

Wei Wuxian doesn’t look for Lan Xichen’s reaction to that, or even Lan Wangji’s, all Wei Wuxian cares about in that moment is the happy smile A-Yuan gives him in return. 

#

When A-Yuan and Lan Xichen are safely out the door, Lan Wangji sits heavily on the couch. Despite having slept in late there’s still something tired in his eyes. 

Wei Wuxian sits next to him, resisting the urge to wrap Lan Wangji up in his arms, to take Lan Wangji back to bed and let him sleep until everything that’s weighing on him is lifted. “I’m sorry about that.” 

Lan Wangji looks at Wei Wuxian incredulously. “Wei Ying, I’m sorry.” 

Wei Wuxian smiles. “I’ve made things complicated.” 

Lan Wangji shakes his head. “Brother was right, this must be difficult for you too.” 

That makes Wei Wuxian laugh. “How could it be difficult for a dream, Lan Zhan?” 

Lan Wangji studies him long enough that Wei Wuxian’s smile starts to fade. “It’s not a dream.” 

That wipes the last of the smile from Wei Wuxian’s face. He can’t help leaning forward when he asks, “You believe me?” 

There’s another pause. Wei Wuxian can feel his heart beating in his throat. 

“Yes.” 

“Oh…” Wei Wuxian breathes. This time he can’t resist wrapping Lan Wangji in a hug, hiding his face against Lan Wangji’s shoulder, as Lan Wangji hugs him back. It feels like, if Lan Wangji had said ‘no,’ Wei Wuxian might really have drifted away, unreal, a dream after all. 

Lan Wangji holds him until Wei Wuxian is sure of the solidity of his own body, sure that he’s here, and sure that he has to say the words that have been filling his mouth since this morning. 

Wei Wuxian sits up straight, letting go of Lan Wangji for the moment. “Good, because I need to tell you something else.” 

Lan Wangji tenses, and Wei Wuxian reaches out to take his hand. “It’s not bad, Lan Zhan. I hope it’s good, but even if- Even so, we won’t let it be bad.” 

Some of the tension leaves Lan Wangji, but he’s still watching Wei Wuxian warily. 

Wei Wuxian thinks if, all those years ago, he had figured this out, he might have struggled with the words, he might have worried too much about rejection, or, maybe, he would have just pretended not to have have these feeling, pushed them away for years and years. But now, Wei Wuxian has lost too much time and he’s not going to waste any more, so he just says plainly, “I’m in love with you.” 

Lan Wangji freezes, except for his hand which closes around Wei Wuxian’s so tightly that it hurts. Lan Wangji doesn’t say anything, so Wei Wuxian goes on. “I think I’ve loved you for a long time, and I’m sorry it took all of this for me to realize it, but, Lan Zhan, I don’t want to spend any more time without you.” 

Lan Wangji’s hand is still tight around Wei Wuxian’s which Wei Wuxian chooses to interpret as a good sign in the face of Lan Wangji’s continued silence. 

Finally Lan Wangji manages, “Before you never- You never felt like this.” 

Wei Wuxian can’t help laughing. “Do you think it’s the coma, Lan Zhan? I can promise you it’s not. I was very stupid, but Lan Zhan how can I explain…” Wei Wuxian thinks for a minute and then laughs again. “Lan Zhan, do you know that every article I wrote started as a letter to you? Before I even thought about trying to get published I would write you these long letters that I never sent. I just missed you so much. Later, I could never get started on an article without thinking about how I would tell you the story first. Jiejie might still have my old files, I used to send her my back-ups, you could see...” 

Lan Wangji is watching Wei Wuxian intently, as if still looking for some deeper sign, so Wei Wuxian continues - now that he’s let himself think about it, it’s easy for Wei Wuxian to talk about his love for Lan Wangji. “Or, Lan Zhan, I always tried to hide it, but you knew that sometimes things got dangerous. Every time it got bad, and it seemed like I might not make it to the next day, or the next minute, you know what I thought? I thought, I wish I could see Lan Zhan one more time. No matter how many times I’d seen you since the last time! I always, always wanted more time with you.” 

Lan Wangji’s eyes are glittering, Wei Wuxian shouldn’t have mentioned the danger, even if it was in the past now. “Or when I found A-Yuan, when I decided to give all that up, I really was coming to you.” 

Lan Wangji looks like he wants to believe, but he says, “I was your friend.” 

Wei Wuxian laughs once more. “Ah, Lan Zhan.” He looks up at Lan Wangji slyly. “Do you also want me to tell you the thoughts I had about you when the nights were long and lonely? I can do that if you want, Lan Zhan.” 

Lan Wangji finally lets go of Wei Wuxian’s hand, but it’s okay, because instead Lan Wangji is holding Wei Wuxian’s face as he kisses Wei Wuxian. It’s even better than that first kiss, because this time they both know it’s real. This time Wei Wuxian can let himself enjoy the softness of Lan Wangji’s lips, can kiss him back with all the passion of decades of longing. 

Lan Wangji cups Wei Wuxian’s face, positioning him just so, but Wei Wuxian has never been good at following directions and he surges up on his knees, shuffling forward until he’s over Lan Wangji’s lap. Lan Wangji readjusts, accommodating, letting Wei Wuxian straddle his hips. Wei Wuxian uses the height difference offered by the position to lean into Lan Wangji, deepening the kiss, holding them together. 

Lan Wangji follows Wei Wuxian’s lead for a moment, hands on Wei Wuxian’s back, steadying him there. Then he’s lifting Wei Wuxian up and then down into the cushions of the couch, pinning Wei Wuxian with his kisses. Wei Wuxian has no complaints, he tangles them together, wrapping one of his legs over Lan Wangji’s hip, trapping him on top of Wei Wuxian. Lan Zhan is over him, around him, in his mouth, and Wei Wuxian only wants one more thing. 

He pulls away, just enough to ask, “So, wait. You love me too?” 

Lan Wangji’s gaze softens. “Ridiculous. Wei Ying, I’ve been in love with you since we were fifteen.” 

Oh. It’s sweet and yet it’s painful to think of Lan Wangji wanting alone for so long. Wei Wuxian reaches up to touch Lan Wangji’s beautiful face, thumb brushing along his cheek, over the soft skin under his eye, the shell of his ear. “I’m sorry I made you wait.” 

Lan Wangji shakes his head. “No need for apologies.” 

And so Wei Wuxian swallows the urge to apologize again and says, instead, “I love you.” 

Lan Wangji leans down, kisses Wei Wuxian’s mouth, his eyelids, in between his eyebrows, his temple, and then says, soft and sincere, “I love you too, Wei Ying.” 

For that Wei Wuxian has to pull him close, not even to kiss, just to hug. Lan Wangji doesn’t protest, only buries his face in the crook of Wei Wuxian’s neck, clinging to Wei Wuxian as much as Wei Wuxian is clinging to him. 

When Wei Wuxian no longer feels like he might be imminently drowned by his own feelings, he asks, “How long will your brother have A-Yuan?” 

Lan Wangji doesn’t bother to move, so when he says, “Hours,” the word tickles against Wei Wuxian’s throat. 

Wei Wuxian shivers, and his voice sounds embarrassingly breathy as he asks, “Hey, Lan Zhan, do you want to show me your bedroom?” 

Lan Wangji leans back enough so that they can meet each other’s eyes. “Our bedroom.” 

“What?” 

Lan Wangji looks embarrassed but determined. “It can be our bedroom if you want.” 

Maybe that should be too fast, but, at the same time, it’s twenty years in the making and at least three years overdue - Wei Wuxian does want. He wants it very much. “Show me our bedroom.” 

Lan Wangji’s eyes darken at that, and then he’s getting up, off Wei Wuxian, and taking all his warmth with him. Wei Wuxian doesn’t have too much time to regret the loss, because Lan Wangji reaches a hand out, letting Wei Wuxian hold on to him, even for the short walk to the bedroom. 

In the bedroom- In their bedroom, Wei Wuxian pretends to look around. It’s nice, decorated in a clean, simple style, exactly what he would expect from Lan Wangji. There’s one framed photograph on the low dresser. Maybe Wei Wuxian should have expected something like it, but he doesn’t, and it hurts to see. It’s a picture of the two of them from college, Wei Wuxian hanging off Lan Wangji’s shoulders, mugging for the camera, while Lan Wangji’s attention is on Wei Wuxian, not on the camera at all. They look so young. It’s a clear reminder of how much Wei Wuxian has hurt Lan Wangji one way and another over the years. It makes Wei Wuxian’s chest ache. 

Wei Wuxian turns the frame face down, he doesn’t want to see it anymore. “We’ll have to take a newer one.”

Lan Wangji’s expression says he understands more of what’s going through Wei Wuxian’s mind then Wei Wuxian would like, but Lan Wangji just kisses the corner of Wei Wuxian’s mouth. “We’ll take lots.” 

Wei Wuxian likes the sound of that. 

He turns back to the bed. It’s large. Wei Wuxian is grateful it isn’t some ascetic twin-sized mattress, or no mattress at all, or some other terrible mark of Lan family restraint. He sits on the edge, pretends to test the bounce. 

Lan Wangji watches, fond and amused. “Satisfactory?” 

Wei Wuxian laughs. “Good so far, but I’ll have to do a more thorough test. Will you help me?” 

“Yes.” Lan Wangji steps forward. 

Wei Wuxian spreads his legs to accommodate Lan Wangji between them. “Oh good.” 

He runs his hands up Lan Wangji’s sides, against the soft fabric of the shirt Lan Wangji had worn to bed. Lan Wangji watches him steadily, and so Wei Wuxian does it again, this time pressing hard enough that the fabric rucks up under his fingers, showing a glimpse of Lan Wangji’s stomach. Wei Wuxian lets the shirt drop again. “Do you think the experiment would be better without this shirt?” 

Lan Wangji touches Wei Wuxian’s shoulder, letting his thumb dip under the collar of Wei Wuxian’s borrowed shirt, along the top of Wei Wuxian’s clavicle. “Without any shirts.” 

“You’re pretty smart.” Wei Wuxian doesn’t wait for any more direction, pulling off his own shirt without flourish. 

Lan Wangji doesn’t reciprocate, instead his face turns serious, and he reaches down to carefully touch the large, ugly scar that crosses Wei Wuxian’s chest. “Is this from the train?” 

Wei Wuxian glances down. The scar is so old that he had completely forgotten that he’d hidden the incident from Lan Wangji when it had happened. Lan Wangji had always been so concerned, and Wei Wuxian had been fine after all.

 “No,” Wei Wuxian admits. 

Lan Wangji’s lips tighten, but he just traces it gently, like he’s memorizing this previously unknown part of Wei Wuxian. 

“Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian covers the hand on his own chest, and Lan Wangji stills, meeting Wei Wuxian’s eyes as if he expects to be told something terrible. “No shirts.” 

Lan Wangji looks exasperated, but finally pulls his shirt off. 

And wow. Lan Wangji’s chest is a work of art. It should be framed and shown at art museums. But that’s true of all of Lan Wangji, he’s so beautiful, everyone can see that. But Wei Wuxian gets to see the private Lan Zhan - gets to see his sweet smiles, his dry humor, the way he loves his son. 

Suddenly impatient, Wei Wuxian slides back, arranging himself in the bed. “Come here.” 

And Lan Wangji does, laying next to Wei Wuxian, almost a mirror of how Wei Wuxian had woken up this morning. 

“Will you kiss me?” Wei Wuxian asks, and Lan Wangji doesn’t hesitate. 

It’s only their third kiss, but Wei Wuxian is already certain he’ll never tire of this. Lan Wangji kisses with such passion, a bold contrast from his usual restraint. Kissing Lan Wangji makes Wei Wuxian feel like he’s on fire, like he’s being consumed by desire, a desire that only grows with each touch. 

Lan Wangji rolls over, pinning Wei Wuxian into the bed. He seems to like that, and Wei Wuxian is in enthusiastic agreement. He loves the feeling of Lan Wangji’s weight on him, just enough heavier to make Wei Wuxian feel surrounded. Lan Wangji so fully against him, the friction of it, the hitch of Lan Wangji’s breath, the way Wei Wuxian can feel how he’s affecting Lan Wangji, all of it makes Wei Wuxian burn. 

Wei Wuxian explores the smooth skin of Lan Wangji’s back, the strength of his arms, the feeling of his soft hair. Lan Wangi’s hands roam in turn, always pulling Wei Wuxian closer. They kiss until Wei Wuxian feels restless, heat racing through him, until he can’t help grinding up into Lan Wangji’s hip, pushing against Lan Wangji’s own hardness. Lan Wangji pulls away from the kiss, which only gives Wei Wuxian a chance to finally explore the pale column of Lan Wangji’s throat with his lips. 

Lan Wangji’s breath catches as he asks, “What did you think about?” 

Wei Wuxian makes himself pull away before he leaves a mark. “What?” 

“You said you’d tell me what you used to think about.” 

“Oh!” Wei Wuxian shivers at the idea of Lan Wangji wanting to hear his fantasies. Of acting them out? “I thought of a lot of things.” 

Lan Wangji just waits patiently, still draped over Wei Wuxian. 

Wei Wuxian tries to organize his thoughts. It’s true that he’s imagined a lot of things. How to start on more than twenty years of fantasies, twenty years of longing? In the end, the heart of all of Wei Wuxian’s fantasies was the same - Lan Wangji wanting him back, Lan Wangji wanting to be with him, even if it was just for a quick fuck. Somehow, Wei Wuxian has already found that, more than that. The details seem almost irrelevant. 

Wei Wuxian reaches up to touch Lan Wangji’s throat, tracing the long line of it, and over Lan Wangji’s jaw, landing on his mouth. Lan Wangji just watches him, parting his lips slightly to let Wei Wuxian press his first two fingers just past Lan Wangji’s lips. “I thought about your mouth a lot. I had this recurring fantasy that you were there, wherever I was that night, and you’d…” 

Lan Wangji sucks Wei Wuxian’s fingers into his mouth, soft tongue moving over them. 

“Yeah…” Wei Wuxian says, dazed by it. 

It had been Wei Wuxian’s go to fantasy when he was lonely - Lan Wangji’s beautiful mouth and his desire to use it on Wei Wuxian. Afterward, Wei Wuxian would close his eyes tightly and imagine that Lan Wangji would stay. Sometimes, Wei Wuxian would imagine a soft conversation between them. Other times, they’d just fall asleep together, quiet and content. 

Lan Wangji still seems to be waiting, even as his tongue is playing over Wei Wuxian’s fingers in a way that takes nearly all of Wei Wuxian’s attention and most of the air in his lungs. 

“You’d suck me off. I guess- Fuck. I guess it’s not a particularly complex fantasy, but I thought about it a lot. Sometimes you’d make me be quiet while you did it, but-” 

Sometimes that had been just for fun, and other times it was a key part of the fantasy due to close quarters. Here and now, Lan Wangji’s mouth might be Wei Wuxian undoing. “But god, Lan Zhan, not today. I don’t think I could.” 

Lan Wangji takes ahold of Wei Wuxian’s hand. He slides Wei Wuxian’s fingers out of his mouth with one last, devastating caress of his tongue. Then he presses a kiss in Wei Wuxian’s palm, and another on his inner wrist, tongue tracing over the pulse point. “Not today.”

There’s a promise in those words that makes Wei Wuxian’s cock throb. He pushes up against Lan Wangji, a small whine escaping when Lan Wangji lifts himself away. 

The frustration fades when Wei Wuxian sees that Lan Wangji is sliding down, fingers hooking in the waistband of Wei Wuxian’s sleep pants and underwear. Lan Wangji looks up, asking for permission, and Wei Wuxian nods, frantic with want. 

Lan Wangji eases both garments off, and then he’s got his hand on Wei Wuxian’s cock. Wei Wuxian had vaguely expected Lan Wangji to tease him, but instead Lan Wangji is direct, first his hand, and then his mouth. 

Wei Wuxian is so glad that Lan Wangji hadn’t asked him to be quiet, because he doesn’t think anything could have kept in the moan that escapes him at the first feeling of Lan Wangji’s perfect mouth on his cock. 

In his fantasies, Wei Wuxian hadn’t been sure if Lan Wangji would be knowledgeable or inexperienced; shy or direct. Wei Wuxian had played out each scenario in turn, enjoying them all in their own ways. Wei Wuxian would have liked any way that Lan Wangji was in bed if Lan Wangji wanted to be there with him, but Wei Wuxian is thrilled by Lan Wangji’s take charge approach. 

Lan Wangji pins Wei Wuxian’s hips still with his other arm, and proceeds to use his hand and mouth to absolutely destroy Wei Wuxian. Lan Wangji neatly catalogs the things that make Wei Wuxian groan and comes back to them with ruthless efficiency. 

It’s quicker than Wei Wuxian’s ego would like when he’s forced to say, “Ah, Lan Zhan. I’m- I’m going to-” Lan Wangji must understand, even if Wei Wuxian’s own gasps for air cut off the end of the sentence, but instead of pulling away, Lan Wangji just takes Wei Wuxian deeper, and there’s no hope for Wei Wuxian then. With a sound that might have once been Lan Zhan’s name, but is now just a slur of vowels, Wei Wuxian is coming, everything fading out in a wave of pure pleasure. 

Lan Wangji slides up, kissing Wei Wuxian through the aftermath, even as Wei Wuxian can’t do much more than pant into Lan Wangji’s mouth. Eventually, Wei Wuxian manages to return the kiss, to taste himself there, an idea so hot that Wei Wuxian might have gotten hard again if he were a decade or so younger. 

“Lan Zhan, what do you want? Let me make you feel as good as you just made me feel.” 

Lan Wangji bites Wei Wuxian’s lower lip, not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to show his appreciation. “The same.”

“Gladly.” 

Wei Wuxian turns them over, so he’s on top of Lan Wangji, and then moves down to where Lan Wangji’s cock is pressing against the fabric of his sleep pants. Wei Wuxian strokes Lan Wangji through the fabric, feels how hot and hard Lan Wangji is, even through the cotton. When Wei Wuxian pulls the sleep pants down, he can see that there’s already a wet spot soaking through the fabric of Lan Wangji’s underwear. Wei Wuxian can’t resist leaning down and licking it, tongue making the fabric even wetter. 

Lan Wangji’s hands are in Wei Wuxian’s hair for a brief moment, and then gone, politely clutching the bedclothes instead. Wei Wuxian grabs Lan Wangji’s wrist, placing one of Lan Wangji’s hands back in his hair. “You can pull if you want.” 

Wei Wuxian is close enough to see Lan Wangji’s cock jump at that. Wei Wuxian smiles, rewarding Lan Wangji with another suck through the fabric, tracing the hidden shape of Lan Wangji’s cock with his tongue. Lan Wangji’s fingers curl in Wei Wuxian’s hair, pulling ever so slightly and Wei Wuxian is suddenly impatient with his own games. 

Wei Wuxian pulls Lan Wangji’s underwear down, unsurprised to find that Lan Wangji’s cock is as perfect as the rest of him. Wei Wuxian experimentally licks the head, and Lan Wangji’s fingers tighten in his hair, this time enough to hurt a little. A shiver runs through Wei Wuxian. Next time they are doing this in reverse order - Wei Wuxian thinks he might be able to get pretty close to coming just from Lan Wangji’s hands in his hair and Lan Wangji’s cock in his mouth. 

This is good too though. Wei Wuxian gives Lan Wangji one more teasing lick, before taking hold of him and settling in to make Lan Wangji feel everything that he’d made Wei Wuxian feel. It doesn’t take much to find a rhythm that pulls Lan Wangji over the edge, as close as he already is. Lan Wangji’s fingers twist in Wei Wuxian’s hair as he comes with a soft gasp, and another shiver runs down Wei Wuxian’s spine. Definitely something to return to. 

Wei Wuxian sucks Lan Wangji until he starts to soften, until Lan Wangji’s contentment turns to over stimulation. Wei Wuxian kisses Lan Wangji’s hip, and gently tugs his underwear all the way off, tossing them vaguely in the direction of the rest of their clothes. 

Then Wei Wuxian crawls back up, draping himself all over Lan Wangji, tangling their legs together. Lan Wangji lazily smooths Wei Wuxian’s hair, his gentle touch so different from a moment ago, and both so good. 

“Lan Zhan?” 

“Mm.” 

“Do you have anything you need to do today?” 

“No.” 

“Then I say, we get lunch in a bit, and do that all over again.” 

“Mm.” 

Wei Wuxian presses his smile into Lan Wangji’s chest. No fantasy could have ever prepared Wei Wuxian for the feeling of contentment filling him now. 

#

With a final, definitive click, Wei Wuxian proclaims his latest article to be complete. The email sends - out of sight, out of mind, at least until his editor comes back with a list of things to change. Working for the local paper means that Wei Wuxian actually has to be able to look his editor in the eye every so often, and, as a result, he tries to be slightly more agreeable then he’d been, back when he was always a thousand miles out of reach. 

Even so, Wei Wuxian likes his job. He’d fallen into it with the same sort of easy luck that had gotten him into journalism the first time. He had still been trying to get himself legally resurrected and bureaucratically recognized, but, even in the midst of that legal maze, he’d itched to write again. No one was going to hire a dead man, but Wei Wuxian had spent his entire adult life telling people’s stories, amplifying voices that might not otherwise be heard, and there was one story that was haunting him. 

In some ways, it seemed like Wei Wuxian was the only one who could tell Mo Xuanyu’s story, certainly he was the only one who would. Even though Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure who, if anyone, would publish it, and even though it was more personal than any story he’d ever written before, Wei Wuxian had to write it. It was the best memorial he could offer Mo Xuanyu. In between arguing with yet another government office about his own existence, Wei Wuxian had tracked down Mo Xuanyu’s friends, his exes, and had even gotten one of Mo Xuanyu’s cousins to talk on the record about their family. 

Wei Wuxian had told Mo Xuanyu’s story, but who, if anyone, would publish it remained a mystery. After some debate, Wei Wuxian sent a copy to his favorite editor from the old days, the article itself could be the explanation for Wei Wuxian’s return. She’d read it and then made Wei Wuxian video call her. She watched him through the computer screen and pointedly reminisced about the old days until she’d decided it wasn’t a prank. Once she’d believed Wei Wuxian was really himself, she’d made things happened in same efficient way she always had. It didn’t take long before the article was published and, just like that, government ID or no, Wei Wuxian had people clamoring for his work. 

Most of them wanted Wei Wuxian to do what he’d done before. He had plenty of offers to go back out in the field, to cover this or that unrest or disaster. Wei Wuxian wasn’t interested. Instead, he’d taken a position with the local newspaper. It’s a big city and there are always stories that need telling. Sometimes Wei Wuxian’s work gets national attention and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s work worth doing and that’s what Wei Wuxian cares about. 

Wei Wuxian likes his job, but he’s been working on this latest article all day and he’s happy to be done. He stretches in his office chair, and moves the stack of notes he’d been using off to the side. Wei Wuxian’s office is full of such stacks. Lan Wangji had been happy to cede the rarely used spare bedroom to Wei Wuxian as an office, and creative chaos quickly took over. Wei Wuxian finds that, now that he isn’t always on the move, it’s nice to have a place where he can let his projects build up around him. To Lan Wangji it’s disorder, but to Wei Wuxian it feels like putting down roots. Even the walls are covered in post-it notes and tacked up pictures, like a map of every project Wei Wuxian has started. Now, almost buried under new layers, is still a picture of Wei Wuxian and Mo Xuanyu from college, smiling together and startlingly alike. 

Wei Wuxian stands, stretches again, and wanders out into the rest of the apartment, suddenly missing his family. No one is in the living room, but Wei Wuxian finds A-Yuan in his bedroom. His friend Lan Jingyi is over and they’re intent on A-Yuan’s bunnies. Lan Wangji insists that Wei Wuxian is responsible for the arrival of these two new additions to the household, but Wei Wuxian insists, with equal confidence, that Lan Wangji would have broken down eventually, and that he’s only using Wei Wuxian as an excuse. Wei Wuxian knows that Lan Wangji loves the bunnies just as much as A-Yuan does and watching Lan Wangji with them, especially when he doesn’t think he’s being observed, is one of Wei Wuxian’s favorite things. 

A-Yuan and Lan Jingyi appear to be trying to teach the bunnies a trick. A-Yuan is determined that they can be trained, undeterred by their placid indifference to everything he’s tried so far. Wei Wuxian pauses to watch A-Yuan’s patient attempt to get one of the bunnies to jump over a ruler. Even with Lan Jingyi’s enthusiastic cheerleading, success appears to be elusive. 

Chuckling to himself Wei Wuxian leaves in search of Lan Wangji. He’s not in his office, but he is in their bedroom, shirt unbuttoned. 

“What’s this? Getting undressed without me?” 

Lan Wangji smiles softly at Wei Wuxian. “Getting dressed.” 

Wei Wuxian groans. “Is it time to get changed already?” 

“We need to leave in less than an hour.” 

It’s Jin Zixuan’s birthday, which is somehow an affair that requires dressing up and, worse yet, being polite to all of Jin Zixuan’s horrible relatives. Wei Wuxian would never attend such an event if it wasn’t for his sister. Wei Wuxian groans again, this time more dramatically. 

Lan Wangji regards him impassively, but Wei Wuxian can see the amusement in his eyes. It’s really too bad, Wei Wuxian would much rather stay here and take the shirt right back off Lan Wangji. 

“Lan Jingyi’s mother hasn’t even picked him up yet.” 

Lan Wangji ignores this, and starts to button his shirt. Truly tragic. 

Wei Wuxian is struck by a sudden inspiration. “Let me help you with that,” he says, pushing Lan Wangji’s hands aside. 

Lan Wangji lets him. Wei Wuxian stoops, placing a kiss just above the waistband of Lan Wangji’s pants. One of Lan Wangji’s hands slides into his hair, gentle. Wei Wuxian buttons the lowest button of Lan Wangji’s shirt, hiding the kiss away. 

Wei Wuxian carefully works his way up, concealing a kiss under each button. Lan Wangji should always have Wei Wuxian’s kisses tucked away under his clothing. Maybe he’ll let Wei Wuxian do this every morning. Lan Wangji probably would if Wei Wuxian asked. 

Wei Wuxian buttons the last button, but can’t help working his way further up, a kiss, then two, up the column of Lan Wangji’s throat, one on the line of his jaw, one more just under his lower lip. Wei Wuxian pauses there, face-to-face with Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji’s mouth is just open and Wei Wuxian knows what he wants, but hovers just a centimeter away, watching Lan Wangji realize what he’s doing. Wei Wuxian smirks at Lan Wangji’s frustration and that’s enough for Lan Wangji, who closes the last few millimeters himself, leaning in for a kiss. 

They kiss there, lazy and unmotivated, knowing that they don’t have time for any more than this. Lan Wangji’s thumb brushes along Wei Wuxian’s jaw, and Wei Wuxian smooths a hand over the muscles of Lan Wangji’s back, taking comfort in the familiar curves of each other’s bodies. 

The doorbell rings, ending the moment. Lan Wangji quickly tucks in his shirt. “I’ll answer, you should get changed.” 

Wei Wuxian nods. Let Lan Wangji help A-Yuan pick out something to wear to the party too. A-Yuan’s been obsessed with the color green lately, one of those inexplicable passions of childhood, insisting on wearing at least one notable green item every day. Maybe Lan Wangji will be able to help him find something green and also party appropriate. Otherwise they might have to try to convince him that green socks are enough, an idea that he’s never found convincing before.

Wei Wuxian sorts through his own clothing, setting his selections on the dresser, next to the framed photograph from their wedding. That was the first time their whole family had gotten together like they will tonight. Plenty of people in both of their families had been skeptical when they’d married only three months after Wei Wuxian had returned. But once Wei Wuxian had gotten himself officially established as legally living, neither of them had seen any reason to wait a moment longer. 

Wei Wuxian has just finished making sure his hair isn’t totally out of control when A-Yuan bursts in. “Dad said I could wear this with my green shoes.” 

A-Yuan looks very proper and the promised extreme green sneakers will definitely not match at all. Wei Wuxian smiles internally, thinking about the negotiations that must have taken place. It probably helps that Lan Wangji is no more fond of Jin Zixuan’s family than Wei Wuxian. Externally Wei Wuxian keeps a straight face, but says appreciatively, “Very stylish!” 

Lan Wangji follows A-Yuan in. There’s bunny hair on his chest, he’d clearly indulged in cuddling the rabbits while A-Yuan was picking out his clothes. Wei Wuxian briefly considers how adorable it would be to let Lan Wangji go to the party like that, but ultimately walks over and brushes it off.

Lan Wangji looks unembarrassed in a way that means he’s putting some effort into not being embarrassed. Wei Wuxian finally lets the smirk out as he works on the fur situation. “Lan Zhan, does this mean I can wear sneakers too?” 

Lan Wangji only looks at him patiently, and Wei Wuxian laughs. He leans in for a quick kiss, gives Lan Wangji’s chest one final brush, and asks, “Everyone ready?” 

“Yeah!” says A-Yuan, clearly already excited about seeing his cousins. 

“Mm,” says Lan Wangji, less enthused, but not wholly displeased.

Even if tonight runs the risk of being annoying, it is always good to see family - Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli especially. Lan Xichen will be there. A-Yuan loves spending time with A-Ling, playing the wise older cousin. And most of all, Lan Wangji will be with Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian can handle almost anything with Lan Wangji by his side. 

“Okay then,” Wei Wuxian says, and they head out the door - a family.